I, like many other Americans, spent the day enjoying my time off from work, doing some odd jobs around the house, having some hot dogs and beer with family and then capping it off by perusing the blogosphere to see what was being said on the subject of Independence Day. There is a lot of good material to read and I would like share two commentaries from the People’s Weekly World on-line edition.The first, Struggles and Fireworks, is from the PWW editorial board while the second essay, Should the left celebrate the 4th of July, was written by Santi Suthinithet. Both essays offer a viewpoint that you probably won’t see in your hometown newspaper.
It’s that time of year when Americans of all cultures and creeds take the day off (if they can) to barbecue, watch fireworks and maybe drink a few beers or soft drinks.
It’s the Fourth of July, a time to celebrate America — our history, and our future.
The history of the American people is a history of struggle and progress. The American Revolution established the world’s first democratic republic. Yet it was a flawed one, stained by slavery, extermination of Native Americans, suppression of women, and class oppression
But, while the tasks of establishing a just society weren’t finished, neither was the struggle for progress. The American people went on to overthrow slavery in the Civil War — often referred to as the Second American Revolution — and then to secure the rights of African Americans and women to vote and to end Jim Crow segregation.
American working people built a massive labor movement in the 1930s, one that is resurgent today. They fought for and won sweeping social reforms such as public education, wage and hour laws, ending child labor, health and safety measures and environmental protection.
The struggle to protect and extend civil rights and liberties is as old as the birth of the republic, and continues sharply today. From the beginning, this was a nation of immigrants as well as native-born. From the beginning too, there have been struggles to make our country a beacon of multi-ethnic, multinational inclusiveness.
While the ruling class has often involved this country in immoral wars, the American people often rise to stop them. Such was the case with the Vietnam War, and such is the case with the Iraq war today.
We can see this tradition continuing today. Most strikingly, we’ve seen millions of people of all races and nationalities, young and old, male and female, cast their ballots either for the first African American or the first woman president in our history.
We saw more than 60,000 people, mainly white, pour into the streets in Oregon to support Obama — the largest political rally in our nation’s history. And we seem poised to elect our first Black president and oust the ultra-right.
So let’s celebrate our country and struggle: past, present and future.
Should Independence Day be a cause of celebration for Americans? What does this commemoration of the Declaration of Independence really mean in a nation whose history is tainted with criminal wars, greed, racism and slavery?
On July 5, 1852, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass didn’t mince words in his landmark speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” he asked. “A day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” He went on to call slaveholding America’s celebrations “a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”
Yet he went on to conclude:
“Notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country … I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.” He was referring to the growing abolitionist movement, which would triumph with the abolition of slavery only a decade later.
We are all still paying for the savagery of slavery and racism in America.
But at the same time the Declaration of Independence — and America’s foundation — is built on continually progressing — and revolutionary — principles as well. We are a country with a noble history of struggle for equality, secularism, liberty and civil rights.
It is too often forgotten that a radical internationalist and revolutionary named Tom Paine played a leading role in the American Revolution. Paine urged the end of monarchy, poverty, war and slavery from the beginning. His brilliant pamphlet “Common Sense,” issued on January 10, 1776, was considered the manifesto of the revolution. It strongly influenced Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence six months later, which in turn became the guiding principles for the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.
Karl Marx saw the American fight for independence as “the first impulse … to the European revolutions of the eighteenth century” and said its declaration “informed the whole world of the foundation of an independent great Democratic Republic on the American continent.” He called it the “first Declaration of the Rights of Man.”
Almost two centuries later in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh called the opening words of the Declaration of Independence “immortal.”
And look where we are today — what has been accomplished.
An excerpt from Barack Obama’s groundbreaking “Towards a More Perfect Union” speech represents what is truly great about this country—and yet is still too often taken for granted.
Obama, noting his ancestors and diverse background, said, “For as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
He did not skirt over the contradictions between the founding ideals of America and the realities of our past and present, yet he pointed to the potential at our nation’s core:
“The answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution — a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.”
No words on a parchment would be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights as citizens of the United States. Generations of Americans fought hard — through protests and struggles, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their times.
Unfortunately, in some circles on the American left, it’s not politically correct to take pride in America and our shared history.
Obviously, there’s a big difference between being a proud American and being a vulgar chauvinist or jingoist.
But not one democratic or socialist movement or revolution in history inspired its people by encouraging them to hate their country.
During the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks’ slogan was “Bread! Peace! Land!” not “Screw Russia!” They did not direct their anger at Russia or its people but at the autocratic and corrupt czar and his allies.
And of course, love of country and national unity played essential roles in the revolutionary movements of countries such as Cuba and Vietnam.
So, for the Fourth of July, Independence Day, let’s remember the true revolutionary traditions of America.
Santi Suthinithet (email@example.com) is editor of the Young Communist League USA magazine, Dynamic.
The Revolution Starts Now by Steve Earle
Peace & solidarity,