Friday, July 4, 2008

A Red (and Blue State and Progessive White) Fourth of July

by Norman Markowitz

Today we are celebrating the U.S. declaration of Independence which as our ruling class would like us to forget,was one of the great revolutionary documents in human history, which intensified greatly the political revolutions which would eliminate feudal regimes, first in Europe and North America, and bring the capitalist class as a revolutionary class to power.

Our ruling class is happy to see the capitalist class in power anywhere on earth rather than modern revolutionaries, socialist revolutionaries, who fought and fight to end capitalist regimes and bring the working class to power. But they go to great lengths to deny that the revolutionaries of 1776 had more in common with the capitalist revolutions in France in 1789, and with the socialist revolutionaries in Russia in 1917, China in 1949, Cuba in 1959, and
Vietnam in 1975 than with themselves. And they forget that they have supported counter-revolutionaries throughout the world who have much more in common with the "British Empire Loyalists" or Tories whom the British military were supporting in 1776.

We who are for socialism and who consider ourselves Marxists can learn a lot from July 4, 1776. First, revolutions are complicated historical processes. A class of merchant (commercial) capitalists, commodity producing gentry or landowners and chattel slave holders producing raw materials for the empire was developing here through the first half of the 18th century as a class for itself, fighting against empire restrictions upon its commercial activities, its desires for territorial expansion and its civil rights and liberties "as Englishmen" (by which it meant the rights won in the far less advanced British political revolution of the 17th century).

By the 1770s, the revolutionary groupings within the merchant-landowner, slaveholder class coalition, with the support of substantial elements of the small farmer and artisan "working classes", had turned increasingly to the defeated radical ideas of the British revolution as the rightwing government of George III turned to military force and occupation as their answer to their subject's grievances. A Continental Congress to resist British occupation had been in existence for nearly two years and a full scale in Massachusetts and other "colonies" was already going on when the Declaration was written and adopted.

The principal author of the Declaration was the Thomas Jefferson, a Virginia slaveholder and enlightenment thinker (itself a profound contradiction) who was influenced both by earlier British revolutionary thinking, enlightenment progressive thought, and by the writings of the great agitator-propagandist of the revolution, the recent British immigrant artisan, Tom Paine. Even though his original text was "moderated" before it was introduced, it nevertheless followed Paine's approach in putting forward a general theoretical statement (all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights...") along with specific powerful condemnations of George III and his government's abuses.

Like another George whom we know too too well, George III was not that bright (he would ultimately become what we today would call clinically insane) owed his position to his family and was ready and willing to listen to venal and corrupt "right-wing" (the term didn't exist at the time, coming out of the later French revolution)ministers who believed that military force, warrantless searches and seizures, secret courts, and contempt for all who did not do their bidding constituted a policy.

In the colonies a significant portion of the population did support the British Empire. These included sections of the Church of England high clergy, those sections of the merchant, landowner, and planter class with direct economic ties to London, and in the Southern
colonies especially, slaveholders and their followers who were frightened that any revolution would threaten their existence. After their defeats in New York at Saratoga, and their failure to destroy Washington's revolutionary army in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, the British launch their last great campaign, their Southern offensive(I am biting my tongue not to call it "surge") where they hoped that, in the Carolinas where they know they had large numbers of loyalist supporters, they would win a decisive military victory.

They did win major victories at first, but the guerrilla war tactics of the revolutionaries undermined those victory. Also, by 1780, the American revolutionary government had been recognized by Britain' two great rivals, the French and Spanish empires, who were directly aiding the revolutionaries. Finally, "liberal" elements in London, realizing that the empire had much more to lose than to gain by continuing the war in North America (and that George III's Tory advisors had already squandered large gains that previous British government's had made)
accepted independence, withdrew, and as few Americans know, sent General Cornwallis, who had surrendered his encircled army to Washington and his French allies at Yorktown in 1781, to India to fight against forces opposed to colonial rule.

The American revolution helped bring about the French Revolution and its example and presidential congressional model was followed by revolutionaries against the Spanish empire throughout Latin America. The class power of slaveholders was from the beginning the central deformation of the revolution, although chattel slavery was ended in the Northern states where it was not economically viable.

The republic which the revolution created was a huge advance over any state then in existence and, unlike the French revolutionary state, would fight off monarchical or colonial restoration. That the American Republic would become an aggressive, conquering force in North America, that its concept of "an empire for liberty" as Jefferson said would become the thinly disguised racism and continental colonialism of "Manifest Destiny" by the mid nineteenth century was no surprise, given the power of the slaveholders over the state and also their ability to hold large sections of the population in thrall to a concept of "white man's country democracy" based on territorial economic growth that would solve all social problems.

But the tradition of the American revolution and the Declaration of Independence always stood against the slaveholders and later industrial capitalists and their servants who used and use racism, anti-abolitionism, anti-feminism, and later anti-Communism as ideological armor. Abolitionists turned to the declaration of Independence over and over again even in contexts where it meant risking their lives. The pre Civil War Women's Rights Declaration was modeled directly after the declaration of Independence. The Socialist and supported and labor radical convention in Chicago in 1905 which saw the formation of the Industrial Workers of the World called itself "the Continental Congress of the Working Class." And Ho Chi Minh, whose people would face some of the worst horrors of U.S. imperialism, quoted the Declaration of Independence in the presence of U.S army officers is he declared the independence of Vietnam from both French and Japanese imperialism at Hanoi following the Japanese surrender in September 1945.

Today we have another George to oust from power, along with his "empire loyalists" who, even with a profoundly different political economy seek to sustain a world empire in order to secure the exploitation of our people (actually, the British colonial concept of "virtual representation," that is, it didn't matter of the colonies had no votes because the British government would represent their interests in terms of the overall empire) isn't too different than the view that the U.S. government in the name of freedom, democracy, "anti-terrorism," has the right to control the lives of people through the world who have no right to vote for its leaders or policies.

And today, our chances are actually better than the revolutionaries in 1776, because our people have rights that they see as threatened, and our road to victory is through the restoration of democratic forms, not through their creation, since they already exist and there is no great foreign power that will intervene to occupy the country to keep our empire loyalists or Tories in power

1 comment:

Gregory Esteven said...

When the PA site is behaving again, this needs to be posted on the main page! This is such an excellent piece.

Gregory Esteven