by Bob Avakian
April 20, 2020 | revcom.us
The story is frequently told, by enthusiasts of “this great American democracy,” that at the time of the founding of the country Benjamin Franklin was asked: “What kind of government do we have?” And he replied: “A Republic—if you can keep it.” And it has been “kept” for more than 200 years since then. But the question is now posed more sharply than ever: Is it worth keeping—should any decent person want to keep it?
In the present day, the ridiculous and outmoded nature of this republic stands out, and this is all the more glaring in the context of the developing coronavirus crisis. As just one dimension of this, there is the fact that this particular American bourgeois (capitalist) republic is divided into 50 states, and there are repeatedly conflicts between the different states and between the states and the federal government in their approaches to this coronavirus crisis, which interfere with and undermine a rational unified approach to dealing with this crisis—and this would be the case even if there were not the irrational, anti-scientific Trump and Pence and their fascist regime presiding over the federal government, although of course this regime has only made things far worse.
The fact that this particular bourgeois republic is ridiculous, and in its present form is outmoded even on its own terms, is also expressed in the way that national elections are held—with the head of state (the president) chosen not through direct popular vote but through an electoral college made up of electors chosen through voting in, once again, 50 separate states. (This set-up is also closely related to the fact that the “United States” at its founding contained a number of southern states which rested on a slave-based economy, and one of the main reasons for having the electoral college was to protect the interests of those states and their slave-owning ruling classes—something which went along with the provision in the Constitution that counted slaves as in effect three-fifths human beings, and most fundamentally as property.)
How ridiculous and outmoded this governmental system is (again, even on its own bourgeois terms) can also be seen in the fact that, as part of this set-up, each state elects two people to the Senate, even while some states have far greater populations than others. (It is the case today that states with 30 percent of the population elect 70 percent of the Senators, while the great majority of the population, the remaining 70 percent, is “represented” by only 30 percent of the Senators.)
Many have argued for various remedies to this situation, including abolishing the electoral college and having the president (and vice president) elected directly by popular vote. But, first of all, those who gain advantage in this situation—those who may lose the popular vote but might still win the electoral college count (and these days, this is likely to be Republicans)—are not going to simply give up their advantage.
And, with regard to the “lopsided” way in which the Senate is constituted, relative to the population in the states (the 30/70 vs.70/30 ratios referred to), there is no easy way to change this—and in fact, if anything it will become even more lopsided—fundamentally because the present “configuration” (or “distribution”) of the population in this country is grounded in major changes that have taken place in the economy over many, many decades: the increasing role of agribusiness and a great decline in the relative role of small farms and the number of people engaged in farming; and overall the heightened parasitism of this country, so that increasingly the actual production of things consumed is carried out through a vast international network of sweatshop super-exploitation, especially in the Third World of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, while the sectors abbreviated as “FIRE” (finance, insurance, and real estate), as well as high tech, play an increasingly significant role, along with services, in the economic activity carried out within this country itself. So, for those—particularly those concentrated in urban areas—who have a legitimate complaint regarding the disproportion between the population and how the Senators are selected, there is no realistic remedy since, given where the “FIRE” and high tech sectors have, for significant reasons, come to be concentrated, it would not be possible (or practical) to change the way the population is distributed (and concentrated) within this country without doing what is also not possible (and is not desired by people in the urban areas): changing the economy back to how it was constituted and how it functioned many, many generations ago, without the same degree of extreme parasitism there is today that allows for the high standard of living of significant sections of the population, including among the middle class (even as many others in the middle class were insecure and struggling economically even before the coronavirus crisis hit, to say nothing of the tens of millions of people subjected to dire poverty, and brutal oppression, in this country). And, once again, people in the smaller states with a representation in the Senate that is disproportionate to (larger than) the size of their populations are very unlikely to agree to having the Senate be chosen in some way that makes it correspond more to population (for example, having it be more like the House of Representatives, with a Senator representing not a state—with two for every state—but instead representing a population of a certain size), thereby eliminating the advantage the less populated states now have and giving the predominance to the urban areas with the larger populations.
And then, related to all this, there is that fascist Trump/Pence regime and (as I have analyzed in The Deadly Illusion of “Normalcy” and the Revolutionary Way Forward) the many ways in which its outlook and priorities actually sabotage a rational, scientifically based approach to dealing with the coronavirus crisis (and problems in general). And, beyond that: “This crisis with the coronavirus has brought into sharp relief the reality that the capitalist system is not simply out of step with but is in fundamental conflict with, and a direct obstacle to, meeting the needs of the masses of humanity.”1
It is not just that the particularly American bourgeois republic is outmoded, as well as ridiculous, “on its own terms,” but more fundamentally that the whole capitalist system is outmoded and criminal, and the American variant of this system is particularly criminal—and has been from its very founding. The fact is—a fact which cannot be ignored, evaded, or “explained away” without falling into accommodation and complicity with monstrous crimes—that this is a country founded on the enslavement of millions of African people and genocide against the original inhabitants of North America.
These monstrous crimes of slavery and genocide, and an attempt to rationalize and justify them, were enshrined in the founding documents of this country. As noted, the Constitution institutionalized and codified slavery, and as I have put it:
There would be no United States as we now know it today without slavery. That is a simple and basic truth.2
In the Declaration of Independence, among the things for which the King of England is condemned, is the accusation that he promoted slave rebellions (“excited domestic Insurrections amongst us”) and “endeavoured to bring on the Inhabitants of our Frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages.”3
And the monstrous crimes committed by the rulers of this country—and built into the very structures, relations, dynamics, and functioning of this system—have not only continued over the centuries since the country was first founded but have greatly expanded, subjecting literally billions of people, and countries all over the world, to merciless exploitation, murderous oppression, and the massive destruction of war, including the use of nuclear weapons at the end of World War 2. In sum, while many “liberals” join with the likes of Ronald Reagan in declaring this country “a shining city on the hill,” a beacon of liberty for the world, the truth is that:
This is a country founded on slavery and genocide, which has continued to viciously exploit and oppress people—and to carry out murderous invasions and coups, while ravaging the environment—with terrible consequences for the masses of people, in every part of the world.4
Putting an end to this ridiculous, outmoded, and criminal system, through a revolution aiming to bring into being a far better society, and world, is the challenge that must be confronted, and taken up, by all people of conscience who are willing to face—or who have no choice but to face—the reality of what this system is, and what it means to allow this system to continue existing and to dominate the world and determine the condition and the fate of humanity.5
1. The Deadly Illusion of “Normalcy” and the Revolutionary Way Forward is available at revcom.us. [back]
2. BAsics 1:1 (BAsics, from the talks and writings of Bob Avakian).
Additional comments by the author:
Various apologists of “this great American democracy” point out that, after all, the United States had a Civil War which put an end to slavery—as if this somehow eliminates, or at least “softens” the terrible experience of slavery. (Some have even descended so far into moral degeneracy as to claim that Black people in America should be “grateful” for slavery being ended in this way—after more than two centuries of this slavery!) It is true that the Civil War ended up leading to the emancipation of the slaves. And it is for this reason that I have pointed out that, after this country was founded, and its independence consolidated, the Civil War is the only just war this country has ever fought (on the part of the Union side) while, instead of glorifying this war (as they frequently do with wars they wage) they often bemoan it as a tragedy—“pitting brother against brother.” This ignores the fact that, once they were enabled and allowed to do so, nearly 200,000 Black people fought in the Union Army during the Civil War, dying at a higher rate than their white counterparts—and those Black freedom fighters hardly regarded the whites in the Confederate Army, who were fighting to maintain slavery, as their “brothers”!
It is also another searing indictment of this whole system in this country that, only a decade after the Civil War, with the federal government putting an end to Reconstruction in the South, Black people were once again subjected to the most horrific atrocities, through the system of “Jim Crow” segregation, lynching and overall terror carried out by the Ku Klux Klan, with the backing and often the direct involvement of the authorities and the “legal system” in the South in particular. And, even with some concessions wrenched out of this system through the Civil Rights movement after World War 2, the fact is that Black people in this country have continued to be subjected to systematic oppression and continuing terror, now carried out mainly by the police, in all parts of the country.
The American Crime series at revcom.us chronicles and highlights many—though far from all—of the major and monstrous crimes committed by this system and its ruling class(es), throughout its history and throughout the world. [back]
3. Bob Avakian has written the following regarding the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson:
It is sometimes claimed that Jefferson was actually opposed to slavery and wanted to see an end to it. And you can find statements by Jefferson where he says that slavery is in fact a blight and that it will have negative consequences for some time to come. There have also been misinterpretations of what Jefferson wrote about slavery. To take one important example, there are passages he wrote in drafts of the Declaration of Independence—some of which did not, but some of which did, make it into the final version of that Declaration—where the King of England and the British government were strongly condemned for supposedly imposing the slave trade on the United States. Now, there were, in fact, ways in which Jefferson and the slaveowning class in Virginia generally were opposed to aspects of the international slave trade, even while they themselves were involved in selling slaves to other states and to slaveowners in other territories. In this, the essential motivation of these Virginia slaveowners was that they didn’t want the price of a slave being driven down, since they themselves had become major sellers of slaves within America itself. This is, fundamentally, the reason that they were opposed to the continuation—once they did oppose it—of the international slave trade. They viewed this above all in terms of property, and supply and demand in relation to selling this particular kind of property—human beings. So, here again, Jefferson acted in the interests of the slave-owning class, and his “agrarian society” turned out to be a slaveowning plantation system—not a society of small independent yeomen.
This is of course related to, and in an overall sense part of, the larger contradiction between Jefferson’s lofty sounding statements in the Declaration of Independence about the equality of all men (note: all men) and their “inalienable rights” and, on the other hand, the glaring fact that Jefferson not only owned slaves himself but consistently acted on behalf of the class of slaveowners and the institution of slavery, even while voicing certain moral qualms about slavery and musings about its long-term consequences for the new American republic. (Communism and Jeffersonian Democracy, available in BA’s Collected Works, at revcom.us, emphasis in the original.) [back]
4. Bob Avakian On Impeachment, Crimes Against Humanity, Liberals and Lies, Provocative and Profound Truths, available at revcom.us. [back]
5. In Why We Need An Actual Revolution And How We Can Really Make Revolution, Bob Avakian speaks substantially to those questions; and the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America, authored by Bob Avakian, provides a sweeping vision and a concrete blueprint for a radically different, socialist society, aiming for the final goal of a communist world, with the abolition of all exploitation and oppression. These works are also available at revcom.us. [back]