I know it’s early, but I’ve been thinking about the Fourth of July lately. Although Independence Day is politically problematic, I just think it’s cool that one day of the year is devoted to making loud noises. The best Independence Day I ever had was about fifteen years ago when I lived in New York City. I went to a party at a friend’s apartment in Brooklyn. We went up to the roof of his building, and we could see three different fireworks displays going on simultaneously. (Only in New York, as they say.) Another year I was walking through a neighborhood in Jersey City, where there were so many people setting off firecrackers that it sounded as though there were a war going on.
I once heard an Iraq War veteran say that he hated firecrackers because they reminded him of war. I can understand how someone might feel that way. However, I remember that my father, a World War II veteran who suffered from PTSD (in those days it was called “combat fatigue”), would set off firecrackers in my family’s backyard on the night of the Fourth of July. My favorite was this thing called a “Roman Candle” that would shoot yellow and orange sparks straight up about ten or twenty feet. My father wouldn’t let my siblings and me set any off. He would only let us light these things called “sprinklers”. These were sticks that gave off tiny sparks and made no noise. I tried my best to enjoy these, but the truth was that I found them disappointing. I wanted something that would go bang.
I currently have some firecrackers left over from last year’s Independence Day. However, I’m not going to be able to use them this year, because on Fourth of July weekend I will be attending a socialist conference in San Francisco. I suppose there is something appropriate about that. Still, I will miss the fireworks.
This is a roundabout way of getting to my real topic, which is the American Revolution. It always annoys me when I hear some Marxist assert that the American Revolution was a “bourgeois revolution”. This is at best only a half-truth, since the staunchest supporters of the revolution were slave-owners. It was really only in the New England colonies that the struggle took on a bourgeois/proletarian character. In other parts of the country there were many people who sided with the British. In the Hudson River Valley, many tenant farmers opposed the revolution because their landlords supported it. Many Native Americans sided with the British, because they correctly perceived that people like George Washington were opposed to their well-being. Only the slave-owners saw the revolution as being clearly in their interests.
If the British had been smart, they would have incited a slave rebellion. What they really needed was someone like Marlon Brando’s character in Pontecorvo’s film, Burn!, an agent provocteur. That would almost certainly have defeated the revolution. (Though the New England colonies might well have fought on by themselves.) North America would be a different-looking place.