Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Minute Men and Farmers

I was jolly pleased last night, my copy of CLR James' American Civilization turned up in the post - more on the contents of which anon.

It reminded me of a post I intended on another recent inclusion to my American Studies collection - A people's history of the American Revolution.

Its first chapter is instructive - it deals with how Massachussetts farmers basically rose up in 1775 - before the formal war kicked off - and used mob violence to close down the British backed governmental courts. In effect, a social revolution occurred - leading to the American victory with irregular forces at Lexington and Concord.

A people's army, a militia of farmers assembled with arms from the household, the acme of revolution. The very image of the American struggle of indepence.

Now, the trouble came with trying to actually formally expell the British. The requirements for field war, for taking on the mmightiest military machine on Earth meant farmers and artisans would have been away from their business for far too long. In effect, the mighty Minute Men declined to sign up under military discipline.

Bribes, rewards and salaries were offered, and in the end, it was an army composed of that traditional material of armies - surplus population. Centralised and hierarchical, under the Virginia slaveholder George Washington.

So far, so banal. My point, as such, is that this shift marked a change away from social revolution - farmers against the existing legal/political system, towards a political revolution (to use the trotskyite terminology). The farmers, acting as farmers, as a community, were able to effect radical democratic changes - and in reality, probably could have survived under nominal British jurisdiction by sheer dint of the fact that the british could never have suppressed that social movement.

But to make a national revolution meant acting as something other than farmers and communities, it meant establishing the professional military that suffered so horrendously while the powerful wheeled and dealed. What I am suggesting, is that the removal of the British was greatly desired by the elite, first and foremost, and was their revolution - the rest of the population could have had their revolution without it.

But this highlights a traditional problem for revolutionaries. The workers as workers have power, but in past revolutions when they have joined red armies, joined the party, they have become something other than workers, a new social/political force. teh trick is to build the revolution with the workers as workers and communities, not as rebel armies.


Blogger Eric said...

A similar point was made by Theodore Draper in A Struggle for Power - The American Revolution. He argues that the ruling elite developed a revolutionary ideology in terms of liberty and inalienable rights, in order to further their own self-interests. He contends that the revolution was really a power struggle between various elites.

2:26 PM  
Blogger Bill said...

I think one way I saw it put was that one of the bloodiest wars in history was fought to stop America becoming Canada.

A bit flip, but I think arguably the radical democratic part of American culture is separate and parrallel to the revolution.

Cheers for the book ref, I'll have to grab a copy...

10:01 AM  
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