Revolution #224, January 27, 2011
Letter to the Editors on:
"Revolution Is NOT a Tea Party"
"Revolution is NOT a Tea Party" in Revolution #211 was a very important and materialist contribution to understanding the current political landscape in the U.S. This article both explained in some depth the character of the growing fascist movement in this country, as well as unpacking the reality and motivation behind the way this fascist movement attempts to garb itself in the trappings and mythology of the American Revolution. Most importantly the article demonstrated why this fascist movement cannot be fought by appealing to the "true" character of the American Revolution, a revolution that itself could only lay the groundwork for a modern imperialist state.
In reviewing the history of the American Revolution, Revolution correctly explains that it was led by two exploiting classes, the slave owners and the mercantile and nascent manufacturing capitalists. But I believe that Revolution erred in describing the old order that was overthrown as "separate colonies ruled by a king" with social relations in which "one class ruled over another by virtue of their inherited position, supposedly ordained by god."
This description shows a tendency to believe that the American Revolution was the first bourgeois democratic revolution and tries to shoehorn actual events into the general pattern laid out by Engels in "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific" (although the quote from Engels used in the article is most correct and appropriate).
The first bourgeois democratic revolutions, in which rule of a king and feudal relations were overthrown, occurred in England and the Netherlands in the 1600s. Each of these was intertwined with the Protestant reformation and the Catholic counter-reformation, and in the Netherlands there was also a war of national liberation against Spain. But in both these countries, each with their own particularities, absolute monarchical rule was replaced by bourgeois democratic institutions, and the principal class in power became the mercantile capitalist class.
In England, this was a back and forth process lasting from 1642 to 1688. It began with a revolutionary civil war which led to the execution of the king and the proclamation of a "commonwealth." There followed a restoration of the monarchy. Then finally the king was forced to flee the country and a constitutional monarchy was established with the control of the state firmly in the hands of parliament and with a new monarchy playing an increasingly ceremonial role.
None of this followed a neat and clean pattern. The mercantile capitalists had the landed gentry as junior partners, the parliament retained the House of Lords, the voting franchise was severely restricted, and manorial rights continued in the countryside for some time. Acts of parliament in theory required the "assent" of the monarch, but the last British monarch to veto an act of parliament by denying assent was Queen Anne in 1708 (and this was done on the advice of her ministers, leaders of the parliament). Thus by the time of the American Revolution, England was a full-blown bourgeois state on the verge of the industrial revolution and neither England nor the colonies were ruled over by a king. Still, as one of the legitimizing forms of the English state, all the actions of the capitalist state continued to be proclaimed "in the name of the King."
It was a tenet of mercantile capitalist theory that colonies existed for the purpose of enriching the mother country through trade, exploitation and outright plunder. Thus many of the American colonies were established as chartered corporations and most of British India was for many years ruled exclusively by the British East India Corporation. But by the time of the American Revolution, most of the original charters had given way to direct rule by an appointed English governor who ruled in the interests of the English capitalist class, albeit "in the name of the King." Also the American colonies, with three million inhabitants, had developed a considerable amount of home-rule through elected colonial legislatures. Most were bicameral, but without an hereditary upper house as in England. The only place that feudal manorial rights hung on was in the patroon system in the Hudson valley. Thus by the time of the American Revolution, the colonies were not ruled by a king nor did feudal relations characterize the colonies.
What did characterize the American Revolution was a burgeoning American mercantile capitalist class and chattel slavery producing products for an international capitalist market. But this capitalist class was denied any representation in the English parliament and eventually decided to strike out on its own together with large plantation owners of the South. Reading the documents of the time (for example, the Federalist Papers) gives an idea of how clearly the colonial ruling classes saw the potential for a new empire (a word they used) arising in North America and competing with Europe in the world.
At the same time, many of the intellectual and political representatives of the American capitalists were also deeply influenced by the ideology of the Enlightenment in Europe. As the Revolution article points out, "It was not the case that these original revolutionaries were tricksters or hypocrites. At least some actually believed that they were abolishing social divisions." But their vision—the establishment of the market-friendly conditions of equality before the law (for European-Americans only)—was an idealization of the needs of the capitalist mode of production that brought it into being. It was a vision that stands out today as truly paltry compared with the emancipating vision of communism which transcends the boundaries of bourgeois right.
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