Class Struggle and the American Revolution

Glimpses of Britain and USA history

The American Revolution opened a new stage in the world-wide trans­formation from feudalism to capitalism. For the first time, an anti-colonial revolution succeeded in winning a victory for capitalist economic develop­ment in one country. Without advancing economically, while institutional­izing broad democratic rights as a necessary part of the overall process.

Yet the victory of capitalism is a double-edged sword. Its very process of development destroys feudalism, on the one hand, while simultaneously creating a new class destined to replace it, on the other-the modern proletariat.

Class struggle is the moving force of history, and it existed in America before, during and after the Revolution. In the revolutionary period, class struggle took place on two levels.

The first level saw the young merchants, employers of labour and diverse sections of the working people pitted against British colonialism and local aristocratic elements. While both sides attempted to enlist the support of the masses-the farmers, mechanics (workers), Blacks (slave and free), and Native Americans, the interests of the workers and farmers lay with the national liberation movement. As capitalism developed, the growing modem working class would be a significant force in the fight to win democratic rights for Blacks and Native Americans.

The second level existed simultaneously with the first, and saw all working masses and oppressed peoples on one side in a struggle against the employers and large property-owning classes as a whole.

Many people came to America as indentured servants. They were required to work on a master’s land for five to seven years as payment for their transportation from Europe. This indenture placed these people in a position similar to serfs under feudalism. Without freedom of movement or democratic rights, they were at the mercy of their masters. Yet after the period of indenture was up, they would become wage laborers or indepen­dent small producers, freely going where wages or the market was the best.

Thus, as early as the 1660s, slavery was instituted as a way to keep a permanent source of cheap labor available.

The false ideology of racism was developed to justify the enslavement of black Africans, since it was not possible to enslave the entire working population. Many farmers, workers and artisans opposed slavery, and actively joined movements to crush this vicious institution.

Struggles also took place over slavery among the young, aspiring bour­geois class. Thomas Jefferson, a slaveholder himself, fought for the inclu­sion of a section in the Declaration of Independence condemning slavery.

The clause reprobating the enslaving of the inhabitants of Africa, was struck out in complaisance to South Carolina and Georgia, who had never attempted to restrain the importation of slaves, and who, on the contrary, still wished to continue it.

The greatest weakness of the American Revolution was that it failed to abolish slavery. The struggle between feudal relations and capitalist rela­tions was reflected in the political arena and legal structures. Broad discus­sion ensued over whether to include Blacks in the population figures in order to set the number of representatives to be elected from each state to the House of Representatives.

Throughout the historical development of capitalism in America, before and after the Revolution, the class struggle embraced all sectors of the working masses and peoples. Small farmers, mechanics (workers), small commodity producers, Blacks and Indians continually fought for their own special interests against the large property-owning classes.

The poor of Europe came to America to escape political oppression and economic exploitation.

From: Political Affairs, 1976