Celebrating Democracy? A Reflection on Independence Day

Revolutionary Worker #1245, July 4, 2004, posted at http://rwor.org

The following correspondence was received from a member of the Chicago Revolutionary Writers & Artists Collective.

"What have I or those I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?.Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you this day rejoice are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity, and independence bequeathed by your fathers is shared by you, not me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth of July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn.What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?"

Fredrick Douglass, leader of Black people's revolutionary struggle against slavery, July 5, 1852

"It is conventional wisdom in countries like the U.S. that democracy, and dictatorship are the complete opposite of each other: where there is democracy there is not a dictatorship and where there is a dictatorship there is of course no democracy. But in fact democracy is a form of dictatorship. In any state where democracy is the form of political rule, democracy is really only practiced among the ranks of the ruling class, while dictatorship is exercised over the oppressed class (or classes). In the present-day self-proclaimed `democratic countries' this is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie over the proletariat (and other oppressed strata and groups)."

Bob Avakian Democracy: Can't We Do Better Than That, p. 65

"We also hear doubts that democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East, where freedom is rare. Yet it is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. And above all, we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others, and help transform a troubled part of the world."

George Bush, 2004 State of the Union Address

Fredrick Douglass asked the question, "What to the American slave is your Fourth of July?"

There could be no better expression of the contradiction regarding the millions of exploited and oppressed individuals in this country, and others like Iraq, who are told that they are to celebrate the paraded ideals of American democracy... And though the production relations of outright slavery were abolished through the civil war, these "democratic principles" still exist only to serve in favor of a ruling class dictatorship, and further, perpetuate the exploitation of under-classes, predominantly the proletariat. So the question still remains, what to the (wage) slave, to the poor or homeless, to the oppressed minority is the American Fourth of July?

The commemorated Declaration of Independence in all of its flowery and venerated sentences is an expression of a particular class of individuals whose property and economic interests were in direct conflict with the demands of the monarchial colonial order of Britain. The self-evident truths of "all men are created equal" and secured rights of "governments instituted among men" as well as "the consent of the governed" were ideals constructed through a class character. The fact that slavery was an emerging and thriving enterprise during, and decades after, the Declaration is the most blatant proof of this class character in which these ideals were constructed. Slavery has been abolished, and we are now living in a modern capitalist bourgeois democracy. But the very basic idea of a government that is established through "the consent of the governed" (a democratic tenet that the U.S. today boasts it is establishing in Iraq and Afghanistan) at its rudiments, carries with it the stipulations of what or who is considered fit for self-government , considerations ever determined by the interests of a ruling class dictatorship. This is essentially one of the reasons why in America, historically, these stipulations have been on the basis of race (white), gender (male) and fundamentally, class (owners of property). Today this dictatorship is still exercised as the interests of a bourgeois ruling class frame the terms and parameters of political debate and acceptable positions (for instance, as structured in the process of elections) in governing a democratic society.

If we really want to take this holiday for what it's worth, globally and domestically, it is a celebration of pillaged Iraqis and Afghanis; it's a celebration of Nike shoes being made by Indonesians for 20 cents an hour; a celebration of torture techniques at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay; it's the celebration of an open-ended war on the world; a celebration of domestic repression; a celebration of the NYPD murdering of Amadou Diallo; it's a celebration of the 1,600 people a day (3/4 of them Black and Latino) that are added to the prison system; a celebration of slavery, Jim Crow, racism and the near genocide of the Native Americans. Altogether, it is a celebration of two and a quarter centuries of legitimized oppression and exploitation.

But is this view simply a matter of "anti-Americanism"? I'd say on the one hand it is; it is a sheer disgust for everything this country represents and the unmitigated horrors it has inflicted on millions and millions of individuals globally as well as within its own provinces. Yet on the other hand, it is more than that. If it were simply confined to a peripheral hatred of "the American way," it would not be the revolutionary orientation of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. Oftentimes, the U.S. media and bourgeois proponents attempt to marginalize revolutionary communists into a category of blind and rudderless anti-Americanism. This is seen through the assaults on the RCP by both right wing and left wing proponents in the media with regards to the anti-war movement (See RW #1239, May 9, 2004). Playing on inculcated public sentiments of nationalism, it is an attempt to polarize the political parameters of society and create public opinion, in effect saying: it's all right to disagree with some of the policies of this country as long as you know that overall this is the best place on earth, but blatant anti-Americanism means not only that you are ungrateful for the slave institution and present-day imperialism that has made this country "the best place on earth" but especially, in these times of heightened repression, that you side with "enemies of freedom and democracy" and ultimately need to be exterminated.

However, that peripheral disgust is hardly enough to bring about a genuine socialist revolution. In his response to George Jackson's Blood in My Eye Chairman Avakian speaks to how a revolution can't be, in its essential ideological content, motivated by hatred alone, even though it cannot do without this hatred (See RW #968, August 9, 1998). America, as the nation-state we know it as, is the expression of its underlying production relations (bourgeoisie/proletariat) and overall capitalist mode of production. The very idea of a nation-state arose with the necessity for the bourgeois class to secure capital development within national borders. The ideologies the nation-state espouses, and further, the ideals and values that express a particular national character within this context, emerge from the necessity to legitimize the underlying production relations and the class distinctions that rest thereupon.

The historical development of the United States traveled this path of economic necessity as the developing capitalist system determined the political objectives of a rising bourgeoisie. In the article on the "Declaration of Independence" Chairman Avakian sums it up:

"This document is precisely a declaration of independence of one country from another, it is not a declaration calling for the abolition of all oppressive and exploitative relations. This is more particularly the declaration of the propertied and politically dominant classes within the United States. All this is clearly indicated in the content of what grievances are enumerated--and what evils are glaringly not mentioned, most prominent among them slavery. When the authors of this declaration list among the `abuses and usurpations' that have moved them to break free of the control of the English monarchy the fact that the latter is guilty of `imposing taxes on us without our consent' and `cutting off our trade with all parts of the world' they are giving expression to the outrage of classes which are restricted in their accumulation of wealth and capital by these measures imposed by the ruling classes of a foreign power." (Bob Avakian, "Declaration of Independence, Equal Opportunity and Bourgeois Right")

In this light, it is the motivating economic conditions of capitalism, and its property relations determining the exploitive social relations and illusions of democracy, that are the targets of irrevocable opposition. The revolutionary class of the proletariat is an international one, and so is the oppression that befalls this class and other groups as a result of the capitalism and imperialism of this country and others alike. Thus it is insufficient to simply be disgusted with the American way, but more so, the way of imperialism, of capitalism, of exploitation. The American Fourth of July's Declaration of Independence, in its most fundamental sense, is an expression of the class relations that gave birth to modern democracy, a political ideology that works in favor of an exclusive class. With all of this in mind, we have to consider what it means when the U.S. is engaging on the "historic goal" of establishing this democracy in the world.