Freedom Through Technology

Historical Materialism and the American Revolution

February 4, 2021 ·

Have you ever wondered about the glaring contradictions between the founding documents and principles of our republic and the reality of its genesis? Have you ever wondered why the founding fathers wrote of concepts like “all men are created equal” while owning slaves and prosecuting genocide against the native population?

These contradictions are not simply a demonstration of the fallibility of humanity, but a symptom of incorrect historical analysis.

See, the textbooks and academics of western liberal democratic republics like the United States base their analyses on an idealistic approach: they analyze historical events like the American Revolutionary War as ultimately a battle of ideas or ideologies, and history at large as a series of ideological contradictions battling it out as humanity edges ever closer to a realization of truth, while ignoring entirely the material conditions under which societies historically functioned and evolved.

A more scientific and correct approach views the evolution of humanity through the lens of changes in its material conditions: in what manner are the neccessities for human survival produced and distributed?

If we look at the struggle for the American colonies’ independence from the British crown through such a lens, the apparent contradictions suddenly line up.

Let’s take a look.

The British crown and government in the 1770s was in the hands of the house of Hanover, a family of German nobles who assumed the monarchy after the death of queen Anne, the last monarch of the Scottish house of Stuart, whose rule was interrupted by civil war between Royalist and Parliamentarian factions, led respectively by king Charles I and Oliver Cromwell. As the Parliamentarians had ultimately defeated the Royalists, even beheading the king and establishing something of a republic under Cromwell prior to the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, by the time the house of Hanover assumed power, the monarchy, now stripped of much of its former autocratic powers, represented a sort of dying gasp of the old feudal system.

The group that was on the rise in that era was the new merchant class. Capitalist in nature and disposition, these ambitious men had enriched themselves out of serfdom by engaging in seafaring trade. The new merchant class–representing the vast majority of American colonists–quickly found itself in conflict with the vestiges of monarchy, chafing under the boot of the crown’s taxes upon their industry. Virtually all members of this new class were white men with large holdings of land, controlling (if not owning outright) the largest share of the means by which goods and services in the colonies were produced and distributed. They did not believe the British crown had a claim on any share of the wealth they were producing for themselves, and organized a revolutionary struggle to claim the entirety of their new wealth for themselves and establish themselves as the new ruling class of the colonies. They imported slaves from Africa as free labor to jump-start their new economy, and committed genocide against the native population in order to secure land from which to produce goods and services.

Regardless of the intentions of the new merchant class, revolutionary struggle against such a large and formidable opponent as the British Empire required mass support, to include the majority of colonists who would become the soldiers of the revolution, and who neither owned land nor claimed representation in the political system of the colonies. In order to secure this critical support, propagandists of the emergent ruling class–such as Thomas Paine–blanketed the colonies with eloquent pamphlets, stirring resentment and patriotic fervor among the masses with lofty words and ideals like freedom and liberty. However, the development of the new political system was intended to secure neither freedom nor liberty for the masses beyond what was required to keep them in line. The very nature of the Senate and Electoral College was developed–chiefly by James Madison–to guard the wealth of this new ruling class from political attacks from the un-landed masses. This is also why suffrage was offered only to white male landowners: the very class from which the colonies’ revolutionary struggle was born. Freedom and liberty were only a half-truth of patriot propaganda, as such things were intended to benefit primarily the new ruling class, and was only to benefit the subjugated masses to the extent necessary to placate them into submission. Freedom and liberty, yes, but for whom? Patriot propaganda was truly the first instance in the American experiment of the manufacture of mass consent.

If we look upon all historical events in this manner, by examing the evolution of modes of production, and the prevalent material conditions of those involved, it becomes astonishingly simple to separate truth from propaganda, and take an honest view of the lofty ideas proposed in such social shifts as the tools of securing mass consent they actually were, for in the vast majority of cases, manufactured consent is all they represent.

This is why Donald Trump can secure mass consent by promising to “Make America Great Again” and do little to nothing of substance to those ends, while retaining the support of his followers. It is all idealistic propaganda.

This is why the Democratic Party and its leadership can retain its followers, by talking a great game about equality and helping those in need, while funneling trillions to its corporate donors and vastly trimming back its campaign promises of material support to the masses. Once again, idealistic propaganda.

The approach of sticking only to actual, observable, material conditions when evaluating political movements and actions allows us to cut through idealistic propaganda used to manufacture mass consent and see reality for what it actually is.

Let’s extract ourselves from political theater, and get down to brass tacks.

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