BY JACK BARNES
At the big public meeting here in New York two days ago, we encouraged participants to visit the exhibition on Slavery in New York at the New York Historical Society. Among many other things, the exhibit describes the New York Manumission Society founded in 1785. I noted that John Jaypresident of the Continental Congress for several years during the American Revolution, and later governor of New York and Chief Justice of the United Stateswas a founder of the society and had included in its constitution the following words: The benevolent Creator and Father of men [has] given to them all an equal right to Life, Liberty and Property.
I contrasted this favorably to Thomas Jeffersons decision, in drafting the Declaration of Independence a decade earlier, to alter those wordsmuch used by bourgeois opponents of monarchical tyranny and feudal reaction at the timeand replace them with the more intangible phrase: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. With the exception of the four children of Sally Hemings, none of the other slaves owned by Thomas Jefferson were freed by him, even in his will; 130 were sold at auction when he died. Possibly that puts into some perspective Jeffersons practical understanding of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The banner Life, Liberty and Property was much more in the interests of all working people. It was the dispossession of independent toiling producers by capital that left us with no other choice but to sell our labor power to an employer in order to survive and thus gave rise to our class, the hereditary proletariat. They took away our free use of tools. They drove us off the land, and out of independent crafts and trades. They deprived us of our own means of production. They took over the commons. And it was the brutal denial of both liberty and propertyeven the right to hold property, much less the opportunity to do sothat marked chattel slavery and many other forms of bonded labor. In the chapters of Capital on So-Called Primitive Accumulation, Marx describes in some detail how, as a result of these combined processes, the capitalist mode of production came into the world dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and filth.
Pursuit of happiness
Once weve established a workers and farmers government and expropriated the capitalist class, working people will be plenty competent to take care of our own pursuit of happinessand well pursue a lot of it on the way. Contrary to the bourgeois misrepresentation of communists as utopian social engineers, proletarian revolutionistslike most other workersfirmly believe that many things in life are best left to the individual. The right to privacy is real. We think the state, including a workers state, should keep its nose out of our pursuit of happiness.
Neither the proletarian dictatorship, nor the communist society it is a bridge toward, has anything to do with some great collective barracks of humanity. Thats not what communism is about. To the contrary, as the Communist Manifesto explains, In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all. We have little idea what it will be like, but it will be a lot better for working people.
Today, more than 130 years after Marx identified the class forces capable of making the third American revolutiona socialist revolutionthat same alliance remains central to the task: free labor, free farmers exploited by capital, and the men and women who freed themselves from the defeated slavocracy. Those forces remain at the heart of building a modern land and labor league,* the revolutionary proletarian party that can do the job.
Amid the powerful nationwide strikes sparked by rail workers in 1877, Marx wrote to Engels:
This first eruption against the oligarchy of associated capital which has arisen since the Civil War will of course be put down, but it could quite well form the starting point for the establishment of a serious labour party in the United States .
The policy of the new President [of withdrawing Union troops backing Radical Reconstruction governments across the South] will turn the Negroes into allies of the workers, and the large expropriations of land (especially fertile land) in favour of railway, mining, etc., companies will convert the peasants of the West, who are already very disenchanted, into allies of the workers.
As I explained in the 1984 SWP convention report, The Fight for a Workers and Farmers Government in the United States:
But this was not to be. The economic and political reserves of the rising U.S. industrial bourgeoisie were far from exhausted, and thus the class-collaborationist illusions among working people still had deep taproots. The class-struggle leadership of the working class and its revolutionary core were still too small in numbers and inexperienced in class combat. Over the next half century the United States would become the worlds mightiest imperialist power, and the U.S. labor officialdom would become Uncle Sams handmaiden.
Moreover, the defeat of Radical Reconstruction dealt a devastating blow to Blacks and other U.S. working people. The U.S. working class became more deeply divided by the national oppression of Blacks that was institutionalized in the South on new foundations in the bloody aftermath of 1877. U.S. labors first giant step toward the formation of major industrial unions did not come for another six decades, and the formation of a labor party, anticipated by Marx 108 years ago, remains an unfulfilled task of our class to this day.
Nonetheless, Marx could not have been more correct about the alliance of social forces that would have to be at the center of a successful revolution in the United Statesthe working class, toilers who are Black, and exploited farmers.
That remains the prognosis for the American revolution, for the conquest of power and establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat in the United States, to this day.