From the Editors: The Pursuit of Happiness
“When it can be said by any country in the world, my people are happy, neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them, my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars, the aged are not in want, … the rational world is my friend because I am the friend of happiness.” – Thomas Paine, The Rights of Man, 1791
Around this time of year, and in the wake of the events of the past year, we think about our history and how we arrived at the place where we are now. The deepening poverty and homelessness, uncontrolled police violence and murder, war around the world, and now the mass murder of eight church members and their pastor in South Carolina. Many are looking at our past and reciting that old saying, “The more things change the more things stay the same.” But we should look closer. The situation we face is something altogether new.
We are witnessing and we are participants in the birth pangs of a profound transformation. Qualitatively new labor replacing technologies are tearing apart society, provoking a struggle over what the future society will be. This struggle is shaped by a history of race, genocide of native peoples and the class rule of property, but it is also shaped by the historical strivings of the American people for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Our deepest history is often forgotten, or not recognized. It is not taught. The American Revolution of 1776 played a most important role in the world historical process toward human progress. It ushered in an entire “Age of Revolution,” which spanned some two hundred years. It inspired the French Revolution of 1789 and revolutions in Mexico, Haiti and throughout Latin America. This process reached its peak with the tidal wave of the national liberation uprisings between the 1940s and 1970s.
The American Revolution was an expression of some three hundred years of profound economic changes and accompanying intellectual turmoil. The conquest of the Americas, the rise of world capitalism, and the pivotal role of African slavery forever changed the world, leading to a new social order. As the old bonds began to loosen, new ideas began to break out in the Americas and Europe, ideas that not only resisted the existing order, but envisioned a new one. These ideas were espoused not only by the rising bourgeoisie. The ideas of the time inspired and mobilized the impoverished and oppressed masses.
These ideas defied submission to hierarchy and the inherited rights of monarchy. They asserted the “rights of man”, liberty, equality, freedom of religion, and a government “of the people.” They embraced the possibility of change and upheld science and reason over tradition, religious dogma and superstition. The new ideas opened the minds of all to understand, as Thomas Paine put it in his 1776 pamphlet Common Sense, “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
These revolutions, and the conditions and ideas that birthed them, changed the world forever, but for most, their full liberating power remained unrealized. In the U.S., private property was upheld and with it the genocide of native peoples and slavery enshrined. The ideals for which farmers, indentured servants, free blacks and slaves had fought were suppressed. But they could not be destroyed.
There are two sides to revolution: one is the overt, objective economic side; the other is its subjective expression, the political goals, its cause and the mobilizing, inspiring vision it creates. Successful revolutions achieve their cause, but the conditions are not always quite ripe to actually achieve the revolutionary vision — the mobilizing, social, subjective side. The cause in the Revolutionary War was independence. The vision was stated in the Declaration of Independence. Since that vision was not fulfilled, another revolution was inevitable.
People fight for ideals. People fight for their vision, even when they cannot achieve it. Each time they gain at least part of what they fought for. As technology advances, the further development of the means of production creates new causes, visions and demands amongst the new generation. They cannot be satisfied with the partial victory their forbearers had won. So again they go about intellectually and organizationally preparing for revolution.
Today, we are embarked on such a task once again. A movement is arising in this country against the immorality and the violence and despair created by the capitalist class and the new fascist order it is imposing. At the center of this movement is the mass demand for the most basic necessities of life – food, shelter, health care, a cultured existence.
Embedded within this demand is a vision of society that expresses the deepest historical strivings of the people: independence from the chains of exploitation, the guaranteed ability of every person to contribute to society, freedom from want, and the expectation of a better life. The pursuit of happiness. Today, the qualitatively new means of production finally make it possible to realize this vision.
Revolutionaries create nothing new; they do not invent or discover. They merely express in general terms, the character and aims of the struggle, the historical movement going on in front of our very eyes. We in the League face the future with confidence. Drawing strength from the historical strivings of the people, we show the meaning and possibilities of the times we are in. We put forward a solution to the ills of transformation. We present a revolutionary strategy to win the political power to reorganize society in the interest of human progress.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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The age-old vision of a world without scarcity, without exploitation, class domination, organized violence, and stultifying labor has been the dream of millenia. The new completely socialized labor-eliminating means of production ... sets the basis for its realization. Now human history can begin, the light of the individual shining in the full brightness of liberated life, that can only be realized within true equality and cooperation: communism, a cooperative society.'Without Vision, the People Perish'
Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011