Saturday, July 4, 2015

July the 4th is not a "White Sale" Day

By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

That if the whole people of the (British) nation had through their essential and unalienable Rights…….(were) invaded by an Act of Parliament which is really the opinion which the whole People of America have of the Stamp Act……in such a Case, after taking all, legal steps to obtain redress to no purpose, the whole People of England would have taken the same steps and justifyd themselves.”
Samual Adams to John Smith late 1765 Pauline Maier.*

In terms of the modern nation state we call the United States of America, today, July 4th, is perhaps the most important holiday as it celebrates the declaration of the 13 British colonies on the continent that the “political bands” that linked them to the mother country had to be broken.

It is perhaps one of the most revolutionary of our historical documents for that reason, that it was a final and irreversible break. That is revealed perhaps in one of its most famous passages, that describes “inalienable” rights bestowed upon us, the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These rights didn’t include the people already living here if course. Nor did they genuinely apply to the colony’s workers and poor.

The document goes even further and leaves us a little gem:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The interpretation of that statement is determined, like most things in life, by the class interests of the individuals or group of individuals reading it. 

In an economic system based on class exploitation, whether feudalism or capitalism or any other, important as constitutional declarations are, words are just words and are meaningless without force to back them up. It’s quite clear that the pursuit of happiness can mean different things to different people. Some people’s happiness is the source of another’s misery and deprivation. They meant different things to different people when they were written. Happiness to some might be flipping houses for a quick profit after people have been thrown out of them by banker’s police forces. This was done en masse by the huge private equity firm Blackrock after the Great Recession in 2008. For others it might be seeing that child you spent years helping learn in your classroom blossom and express all that imparted knowledge in art. The teacher’s labor power materialized through another.

While there are powerful aspects of the document like that quoted above, it still expresses the views of a ruling class and, back then, a national ruling class in formation a revolutionary process that was completed through the Civil War a 100 years later. Regardless, the American Revolution took a historically progressive step breaking from British rule, and had a huge influence in Europe. The French Feudalists were taken out in its aftermath.

This holiday, like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, you name it, are no longer celebrations of real events in history----they are capital accumulation days, or could be called “realization of surplus vale contained within the commodity days.”  Nothing is sacred in the capitalist mode of production except money and the never-ending accumulation of it. For the present ruling elite, July the 4th is no more historically relevant than Christmas. Just another “Macy’s sale day.”

History is written by the victors, by the class that rules. That is true of the history of all class societies. Working class history, the history of those that own only their labor power which they sell to those that own capital, is suppressed or omitted altogether. Or it is taught in the way Hollywood brought us the history of the indigenous people. I was in my 50’s before I knew Tonto meant stupid in Spanish, Can you imagine it.

This is true for a peasant in feudal times or auto or tech workers in today’s modern economy. Since the dawn of reason and the rise of capitalism as the dominant system of production globally, technology has given us more access to each other and our own history, and allows us to investigate our past and history as it really is. But education and information for the masses is the same historical bunk it is not the history of the driving force of society, the never-ending struggle between the classes, between groups with different economic interests.

I was in my 30’s before I understood fully what the English Revolution of the mid 17th century was about other than just an event between swashbuckling royalists and rather dull Cromwellian Roundheads fixed in time rather than a clash between groups with different economic interests.  It’s the same when it comes to understanding the American Revolution. I remember once or twice guys at work would tease me on discovering I associated with what they believed were those anti-American freedom hating ideas collectively described as socialism. The teasing was rare and normally always in friendship but not so for right-wingers. I was even accused of being a Canadian once, never a Mexican though. ¡Híjole!

The truth is that revolutions, not those described as yellow this and red that, but revolutions that change the economic and political order of things, that shift power from one class to another, occur very rarely, a short window in time. Revolutions are also very complicated things. The 1%’s mass media often talks of workers being “strike happy” as if we like denying ourselves of income.  They portray revolutions often as the product of outside agitators and riotous mobs having only chaos as the goal.

The American Revolution is portrayed the same way. The people just decided they didn’t want to be British anymore and that’s it. But there was tremendous loyalty to the old country.  There were years of struggle for reforms and attempts to change things peacefully before the break was made.

During the struggle against the Stamp Act, the loyalty was still strong:
“Allegiance and the strictest Loyalty is due from the from the People of the British American Colonies to our Lawful and Most Gracious Sovereign King George the Third” a resolution from the Newport Sons of Liberty resolved on April 2nd 1766. *

“We cannot entertain the least suspicion of the paternal affection of the present gracious sovereign”, the Portsmouth Sons of Liberty wrote the same month stating that the colonists relied on the mother country, “for security from the progress of that lawless power which certain enemies of Britain and of liberty have artfully attempted to establish” The king was king by God’s will, by Divine Right.

These objections were aimed at the British lawmakers but not King George. The Divine Right of Kings was still a powerful ideological lever enforced by the state and the church authorities. King George was of the “Illustrious House of Hanover” the Sons argued and his rights flowed from the English Revolution of 1688, known as the Glorious Revolution. To many colonists George was also the heir of the “Protestant Succession”, the rising religion of capitalism and the middle classes of Europe.  “He glories in being King of freemen and not of slaves”, one writer in the Constitutional Courant, a New Jersey publication, wrote.  No, revolutions are messy things.

Alongside this of course, there were violent direct actions as angry crowds burned down the homes of colonial officials, despite attempts on the part of the Sons to maintain order.  Impositions like the Stamp Act, threatened commerce and the interests of the colonial capitalist class and elite.  One can imagine how powerful the British state appeared in the eyes of the colonists; it was seen as the US is today by those countries US capitalism exploits. The “Language of the unheard” which is how Martin Luther King described urban uprisings and rioting was the language of the day in pre-revolution society. It’s not a “black” thing.

So the American Revolution, like all revolutions, was a complex series of events.  I have read it described in in thirds. One third wanted it, one third didn’t and one third didn’t know for sure.  Events determined how that would change.

Recognition of events in history are not White Sale days.

I have been criticized for being too long-winded with some justification so I’m stopping here. There is much more to this revolution, the indigenous population, the African American experience but I’m not writing a book at the moment.  The American Revolutionists made some concessions to the incipient working class because they had to, but the American Revolution was part of their ascendancy as the world’s dominant capitalist class. I want to write about what American workers’ 4th of July should be but another time. (By workers I also include “Middle Class” as that’s a term used for workers here.)

I wanted to say something for July 4th and writing for me is therapeutic, I always wanted to be one but ended spent my life as a laborer rising to the dizzy heights of Heavy Equipment Operator. But it gave me a good living and I met the “salt of the earth” through it.

Happy 4th.

* These quotes are to be found in From Resistance to Revolution by Maier, Pauline Ch 3 P 100 an excellent book.

** There are many books on this subject from a working class perspective. I have just a few, and some of them are older but they’re good reading.

The Urban Crucible by Gary Nash gives a real glimpse in to the urban struggles, many of them very similar indeed to the clashes we have seen from Ferguson to Baltimore.  And the Town Hall meetings of those days were nothing like the phony Town Hall meetings the politicians of the 1% have today.

Further exciting information of the events: A People's History of the American Revolution by Howard Zinn

And of course, Phillip Foner’s History of the Labor Movement of the United States Vol. 1 “From Colonial Times to the Founding of the AFL.which focuses on the development and struggles of the working class in the colonies

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