Like most Lefties, I am ambivalent about celebrating this holiday. America is a mixed bag. The revolution, the rebellion against imperialism, has in the long run been entirely corrupted and spawned a new empire which is itself perpetually afflicted with armed uprisings against its oppressive presence.
And the Constitution is a sham.
For a realistic look at what the Constitution really is and just how it was a break on the real revolution, a betrayal by the ruling class of the working class, read Terry Bouton’s superb Taming Democracy (Woody Holton’s and Ray Raphael’s books are also good). Or Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution.
Or better yet, compare it to the original constitution, The Articles of Confederation.
Or even better, read James Madison’s Notes on the Constitutional Congress. As he put it to the other counterrevolutionaries gathered at Philadelphia: We need a government strong enough to protect our property from the commoners’ assemblies.
Yes, that’s right, America was self-governing, self-administered by local democratic assemblies federated nationally. The point of the Constitution was to outlaw these democratic intitutions and establish top-down, bureaucratic control over the country and its economy. And that’s precisely what it did.
We shouldn’t celebrate the Constitution, we should mourn. It’s the Thermidorian reaction of the American Revolution.
But trite as it all has become over the years, it should be remembered that the greatest empire on earth was defeated and put to flight by an insurrection which, although later hijacked by capital, was initiated by yeoman farmers and the then nascent working class in the port cities. (Ray Raphael’s The First American Revolution is a great read.)
As Emerson put it:
By the Rude Bridge Which Arched the Flood,
Their Flag to April’s Breeze Unfurled,
Here Once Embittered Farmers Stood,
And Fired the Shot Heard Round the World.
The revolution of these farmers was betrayed, and America is now what Britain was then, but it is well to remember the shot heard round the world, and the risks those brave souls took. The revolution they hoped for did not occur, but they demonstrated just how fragile these mighty empires really are when confronted with determined mass opposition. And that’s the real revolutionary message, and it is worth celebrating.