The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

From Karl Marx to the Fourth of July

Jun 21, 2021

This article is excerpted from one by James P. Cannon, published in The Militant on July 16, 1951. Cannon had been in the Industrial Workers of the World, then the American Communist Party, and was one of the founding members of what became the Socialist Workers Party. We are publishing excerpts from this article, commemorating the first American Revolution, which broke out 246 years ago.

I’m a Fourth of July man from away back, and a great believer in firecrackers, picnics and brass bands to go with it. You can stop me any time and get me to listen to the glorious story of the greatness of our country and how and when it all got started. The continent we inhabit has been here longer than anyone knows—but as a nation, as an independent people, the darlings of destiny favored above all others, we date from the Declaration of Independence and the Fourth of July.

The representatives in Congress assembled 175 years ago were the great initiators. When they said: “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” they started something that opened up a new era of promise for all mankind. That’s what I am ready to celebrate any time the bands begin to play—the start and the promise. But nobody can sell me the Fourth of July speeches which represent the start as the finish and the promise as the fulfillment. I quit believing in them a long time ago. As soon as I grew old enough to look around and see what was going on in this country—all the inequality and injustice still remaining—the beneficiaries of privilege, claiming the heritage of our first revolution, struck me as imposters. I recognized the standard Fourth of July orators as phonies, as desecrators of a noble dream. They didn’t look like the Liberty Boys of ’76.

But that never turned me against the Fourth of July, as was the case with so many American radicals and revolutionists in the past. I thought the Fourth of July belonged to the people. I always regarded its renunciation as one of the biggest mistakes of American radicalism. It is wrong to confuse internationalism with anti-Americanism; to relinquish the revolutionary traditions of our country to the reactionaries; to let the modern workers’ revolutionary movement, the legitimate heir of the men of 1776, appear as something foreign to our country....

Marx sketched the whole broad outline of American capitalism as it is today in advance of its development. In return for that, American capitalism in all its main features is the crowning proof of Marxism....

Marxism [which is today 173 years old] is not a dogma to be studied for its own sake, but a theory of social evolution and a guide to action in the class struggle. It is not a substitute for the knowledge of concrete reality, past and present, but a theoretical tool for its investigation and interpretation....

We have nothing to do with jingoism, or any kind of vulgar national conceit and arrogance. We are internationalists, and we know very well that our fate is bound up with that of the rest of the world. The revolution which will transform society and bring in the socialist order is a world-wide affair, a task requiring international cooperation to which we contribute only a part. But our part in this international cooperation is the revolution here at home. We must attend to that, study it and know it. And we can’t do that properly unless we know our country and its history and traditions. They are, for the greater part, good. The country itself is good, and so are the great majority of the people in it. Their achievements are many and great. There is nothing really wrong with the USA except that the wrong people have usurped control of it and are running it into the ditch.

The cure for that is not to throw away the country and its traditions, but to get rid of the usurpers by the process popularized by our forefathers under the name of revolution. This new revolution will have to complete the work started by the men of 1776. They secured the nation’s independence. The Second American Revolution of [1861—65], known as the Civil War, smashed the system of chattel slavery, unified the country and opened the way for its unobstructed industrial development. The task of the Third American Revolution is to take this great industrial machine out of the hands of a parasitical clique who operate it for their own benefit, and operate it for the benefit of all.

That’s the general idea. But it is not quite as simple as it sounds. There are complications and complexities. The workers have to make their way through a jungle of traps and deceptions. They need a map and a compass. They need a generalization of the experiences of the past and a theoretical guiding line for the future. That’s what Marxism is. The American workers will come to Marx, and with him they will be invincible. “Marx will become the mentor of the advanced American workers,” said Trotsky. We have the same opinion, and we are working to realize it.

Karl Marx, the German Jew, who lived and worked out his profound theory in England, is native to all countries. The supreme analyst of capitalism is most of all at home in the United States where the development of capitalism has reached its apogee. Marx will help the American workers to know their country, and to change it and make it really their own.