How Should We Celebrate the Bicentennial? (1976)


How Should We Celebrate the Bicentennial?
This is an OCR scan a six-page leaflet
that was distributed in 1976 by the
Socialist Labor Party of America.

A Socialist Labor Party Statement --

How Should We Celebrate the Bicentennial?

How many Americans alive today would have supported the revolution of 1776?

Do the American people still have the revolutionary right to change their form of government? When is a revolution necessary?

Few if any of the bicentennial celebrations now under way will raise such questions. They are more intent on merchandising our history and glorifying the past than on applying the lessons of a revolutionary heritage to the social crises gripping the United States on its 200th anniversary.

But if the bicentennial is going to be anything more than a hollow exercise in rhetoric and propaganda, these are the kinds of questions that should shape its direction.

In a nation with a strong tradition of democratic revolution, there are too few Americans who really understand what a revolution is. For too many it conjures up only a frightening picture of anarchy and violence, misconceptions that are readily nourished by the capitalist interests that dominate the media. For others, revolutions are historic events in the dim past of little current relevance.

But revolutions are neither specters to be feared nor artifacts to be studied as ancient history. Rather they are the way oppressed classes change society in times very much like our own.

In the final analysis, revolutions bring progressive and necessary social change which can neither be avoided nor suppressed. They come whenever social conditions burst the confines of political and economic institutions handed down from earlier historical periods, and force oppressed people to replace outmoded institutions with new ones better suited to their needs and conditions. In the process, an exploited people overthrow the government and domination of a ruling class no longer fit to rule society.

In 1776 Americans took up arms against the domination of a foreign power, a tyrannical monarchy. They opposed a political, economic and military despotism in order to secure political freedoms, economic self-determination and control of their own affairs. They replaced a feudal monarchy with a republican form of government more suited to their needs, and more compatible with social progress.

But the American revolution of 1776 did not mark the end of history. In the two centuries that have passed, the social system founded then has grown and decayed. In fact, today in many parts of the world it is the United States that is viewed as the oppressive foreign power. It is people in other nations who write declarations of independence, take up arms and fight to rid their countries of U.S. domination.

At home the majority of the American people, too, face an oppressive system even more powerful than the one their ancestors fought in 1776. They confront the domination of a small capitalist class of the wealth, and which thrives on the labor of the working majority.

Under the domination of this small ruling class, political freedoms are being eroded; the power of monopolies and government bureaucracy grows; militarization, economic exploitation and slow environmental suicide intensify daily. The democratic principles this country once prided itself on, though never extended to the economic sphere, are less and less features of American life.

If democracy means control of society by the majority of the people, then democracy does not exist in America. The tyranny of an English aristocracy which ruled through a king has been replaced by the tyranny of a small capitalist class which rules through its political servants.

Even more than the Americans of 1776 needed to win control of the 13 colonies "owned" by the English aristocracy, the American people today need to win control of the social economy "owned" by a small handful of private owners. The capitalist economy and the government that serves it must be overthrown and replaced. And just as in 1776, taking control of the means of life requires organizing for revolutionary change.

Every revolution means getting rid of the old order and building the new. One of the most progressive aspects of the 1776 revolution was that the revolutionists understood this truism. They did what they could to build machinery that would allow the people to reconstruct their government when changing social conditions demanded it, as they know they inevitably would in time.

Some of the democratic weapons they forged in that first American revolution and incorporated into the nation's basic law -- the right of free speech, free press, free assembly, the right to a free ballot, the right to amend the Constitution -- were intended to make that possible.

That these same rights are under growing attack by the very government which is supposed to protect them is itself an indication of how reactionary that government has become, of how little it resembles the revolutionaries who founded it, and how much it resembles the tyranny they overthrew.

Above all else, however, the revolution needed today requires the organization of the social power which has grown more than any other over the past 200 years -- economic power. During the last two centuries, Americans have built an economic machine that can finally provide the basis for abundance for all. Even more important, that industrial machine has put economic power potentially in the hands of the majority of people. For the first time in history, the majority of people, the working class, can wield economic control over the forces of production, if organized industrially. Economic domination by either an individual monarch or a small class is no longer necessary or tolerable.

Economic freedom and democracy will be integral parts of the next American revolution, the one that will build socialism in America. They will be principal components of the socialist government organized to suit modern society -- a government based on industrial constituencies, democracy on the job, social ownership and control of the means of production, production for use instead of profit.

Two hundred years after our first revolution, then, we are confronted with the same task: overthrowing an oppressive social order and building a new society.

To accomplish this will require the most organized and conscious revolutionary movement in history. It means organizing all working people in America into a single Socialist Industrial Union movement, a movement that takes the shape of the industrial economy itself.

Through such a union movement workers can mobilize their latent economic power to fight capitalist exploitation more effectively, and ultimately assume direct control and management of the nation's economy. Through such a rank-and-file movement of producers, social ownership and democratic control can finally be brought to the most basic social activity.

At the same time, we must organize politically to contest the politicians committed to continuing capitalism, to educate for the need for socialist change and to openly and painstakingly gather our forces in as peaceful a manner as possible.

There can be no better way to celebrate the anniversary of the first American revolution than by tackling the revolutionary demands of our own time, and using all our efforts as our ancestors did to continue the fight for freedom and build a new society suited to the conditions of our time.