I was inspired and challenged by the agitation done by the revcoms on International May 1st on the Constitution of the United States that aired on The RNL—Revolution, Nothing Less !—Show—how they exposed it as a blood-soaked document of exploiting and oppressing classes and how they compared and contrasted it with the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America written by Bob Avakian, BA. I was especially struck by Michelle Xai’s powerfully uplifting statement on how the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America specifically and explicitly upholds a woman’s right to abortion and birth control (Article III, Section 3)—something you have never seen and will never see in the U.S. Constitution or any of its amendments.
In that light, I wanted to draw readers’ attention to Revolution's publication of BA’s U.S. CONSTITUTION: AN EXPLOITERS’ VISION OF FREEDOM—ADDED NOTES (AND BRIEF INTRODUCTION) and really encourage others—both new and veteran—to set aside the time to read and think about how thoroughly BA peels away the layers of bullshit that people have been fed for generations about how the U.S. Constitution represents the pinnacle of democratic ideals and the best document yet created for ensuring individual rights and freedoms.
In taking this article up, I found myself reading and rereading how BA addresses the argument that, while the U.S. Constitution may be flawed, it contains the mechanisms to be “perfected” over time.
Especially confronting the consolidation of the Republican wing of the bourgeoisie as a straight-up fascist party, preparing for the outright seizure of political power and the open and arbitrary elimination of previously guaranteed constitutional rights (to the extent they even exist), I have heard variations of this argument time and time again—from good and thoughtful people, many of whom have long-standing commitments to social justice, who may even fight fiercely against specific outrages of U.S. imperialism, but then fall back on what BA has described as the “Great Tautological Fallacy,” that the U.S. is a force for good in the world or could be, if the promise of the Constitution could be fully realized.
BA lays the groundwork for taking on this argument to this in the following paragraph:
There are many (including even Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall) who argue that, because of the upholding of slavery in the Constitution—and other injustices, such as excluding women from voting, and the treatment of the Indians—the Constitution was not such a great document when it was written, but it has been made great through the history of the U.S. and the struggles to create a more perfect Union and a more perfect Constitution. In other words, the Constitution may have had defects in some important ways when it was originally conceived, but the miracle of it is that the Constitution has within it provisions for changing and improving it—for extending democracy and rights to those previously excluded. And, some will add, while the Constitution upholds property rights, it also upholds individual and civil rights (even the statement from Madison cited at the beginning of this article stresses that, some might argue). Let’s look more deeply at these questions.
He then goes on to demolish this argument by deeply excavating how from the beginning, the Constitution has been the foundation for a set of laws and institutions guaranteeing the freedom of the capitalist-imperialists to exploit. At times, this has included extending some constitutional rights to sections of people previously excluded—but only to the extent that it allows the capitalist class to continue to carry out its exploitation. BA develops this in one extremely succinct section:
The reason for this is rooted in the very reality and nature of the economic system in the U.S. and the political system that upholds and enforces this economic system, including the Constitution as the legal “cement” of the political structure. The fundamental reason why the “extension” of constitutional rights to those previously excluded from them has not put an end to exploitation, inequality, and oppression is this: The essence of the capitalist economic system is not the competition of commodity owners, all vying equally in the marketplace (equal opportunity for all). The essence is the exploitation of labor as wage-labor, the command by capital over labor power (the ability to do work) as a commodity—a unique commodity—that creates wealth through its use.
Despite acknowledging the “flaws” of the U.S. Constitution, many progressive people I have struggled with point to the 14th Amendment, passed in 1866, as demonstrating its “transformative possibilities.” The Amendment reads in part:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
The 14th Amendment and this sentence are pointed to as being the culmination of the decades of struggle leading up to the Civil War that finally gave substance to the promise of the opening sentence of the Constitution, that begins “We the People….”
But in breaking down both the Amendment (which also provided the provision that the U.S. government was not responsible for reimbursing former slave owners for the loss of their slaves) AND how it was implemented, Avakian demonstrates that it was not until the end of the First World War (60 years later) that the 14th Amendment was even applied in meaningful ways to personal rights and liberties and then only in response to major changes going on the in world and in this country that threatened the abilities of the bourgeoisie to maintain its rule.
And despite the decades of struggle, sacrifice, and enduring outrages that Black people, other people of color and women have been through, the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade threatens to undo even those concessions that were based on the 14th Amendment and demonstrates the willingness of significant sections of the capitalist-imperialists to risk a certain level of domestic upheaval in order to consolidate their fascist base and put themselves in the best position possible to contend with imperialist rivals.
I am still grappling with how BA acknowledges the “brilliance” of the U.S. Constitution in its ability to disguise its purpose of ensuring the freedom of the exploiting classes to exploit by framing its purpose as ensuring the rights of “the People” and the role it plays in shaping the current political terrain, as well as his “added notes.” But I was especially struck by his concluding statements:
In conclusion,The Constitution of the United States is an exploiters' vision of freedom. It is a charter for a society based on exploitation, on slavery in one form or another. The rights and freedoms it proclaims are subordinate to and in the service of the system of exploitation it upholds. This Constitution has been and continues to be applied in accordance with this vision and with the interests of the ruling class of this system: In its application it has become more and more fully the instrument of bourgeois domination, dictatorship, oppression, conquest, and plunder.
Our answer is clear to those who argue: Even if The Constitution of the United States is not perfect, it is the best that has been devised—it sets a standard to be striven for. Our answer is: Why should we aim so low, when we have The Communist Manifesto to set a far higher standard of what humanity can strive for—and is capable of achieving—a far greater vision of freedom.
It blows me away that BA wrote the original U.S. CONSTITUTION: AN EXPLOITERS’ VISION OF FREEDOM in 1987—over 35 years ago! And while The Communist Manifesto does set “far higher standards,” BA's “Added Notes” take the “higher standards” to another level with the following:
In the years since the writing of this article, I have devoted considerable work to the development of what is meant by this “far greater vision of freedom”—what it would mean “in real life.” One very important result of this is the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, which provides both a sweeping vision and a concrete blueprint for a radically different and emancipating society and world.
There is so much more in this article—including the thoughtful explorations in the “Added Notes,” but we MUST NEVER underestimate how significant the existence of the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America is, and how much stronger a position BA has put us in to fight to bring forward the forces necessary to have a real shot at seizing power in the coming years as well as to take the steps necessary to establish a socialist republic in North America and contribute to the emancipation of all humanity by writing it. It is a challenge to all of us fighting for a better future to both ourselves continue to dig into the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America and to boldly wield it broadly to that end. I felt like the revcoms on International May 1, 2023 were a good model of this and can be learned from.
A veteran reader