‘The Spirit of the US Constitution’ by Felix Morrow from New International. Vol. 3 No. 1. February, 1936.

Federalist attack on the French Revolution and the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1797.
‘The Spirit of the US Constitution’ by Felix Morrow from New International. Vol. 3 No. 1. February, 1936.

“THE SUPREME Court was never given the power it wields. It has usurped that power.” This cry, now being raised by the Rooseveltian liberals, has been on other occasions also a useful plank for demagogues. LaFollette ran his 1925 presidential campaign on that issue. Borah raised it in 1923. Teddy Roosevelt toyed with it on occasion and, of course, Jefferson and Jackson made excellent political capital out of it. So often has this cry of usurpation been raised, that one might well ask its present trumpeters: how is it that the Supreme Court has always bobbed up, unscathed and with ever growing power, after every “assault” upon it?

This cry of usurpation is, indeed, a very dangerous piece of demagogery. It implies that an otherwise pure democratic system of government has been perverted by the unnatural powers usurped by the Supreme Court, and that the pure stream of democracy may be restored by removing the Supreme Court. The notion of usurpation reeks of parliamentary cretinism: it is blind to the class role of the government as a whole – including the most representative organ, Congress – and the dependence of all governmental phenomena upon the real relation of forces outside in the world of capitalist ownership and class struggle.

But this “blindness” is itself a class phenomenon. That the Supreme Court is but one of a host of instrumentalities and principles embodied in the Constitution by its makers to thwart forever the possibility of majority rule; that the Founding Fathers had as their fundamental aim the erection of such permanent barriers; that the hostility to majority rule is, in fact, the very essence of the Constitution – such ideas are repugnant to the ruling class, which prefers to perpetuate the myth that the Constitution is a democratic document. “The ruling ideas of the epoch are the ideas of the ruling class.” In their very “dissent”, therefore, the Roosevelt liberals reveal their class loyalty and continue to perpetuate this democratic myth, the classless theory of the state.

Clio’s voice is muted by such powerful forces. The true history of the writing of the Constitution is available enough in the libraries for the student; but in the main it is the democratic myth which prevails in the textbooks and the universities, not to speak of the movies, radio and politics.

And now poor Clio may well despair, for – no doubt after re-reading the press-clippings of LaFollette’s 1924 campaign – the communist party has issued a manifesto (Daily Worker, Jan. 11) and numerous “historical” articles, embracing the “usurpation” theory; the Stalinists have, indeed, become the chief purveyors of this anti-Marxian and factually-discredited theory.

The question of the powers given to the Supreme Court is, however, but one aspect of a much broader question that needs to be answered first: what is the nature of the Constitution? To answer this question at all, one must recall the main characteristics of the historical epoch which produced the Constitution.

When imperial Britain’s leading strings began to turn into fetters on colonial America’s further development, and the New England merchants and the Southern planters took to the road of independence, they faced the fact that the struggle against England involved serious dangers at home. The strong hand of England had upheld the oligarchical rule of merchant and planter over small farmer and artisan. What would happen when this strong hand was gone?

Virginian Luxuries, anonymous, ca. 1825.

Nor was it merely that merchant and planter would now have to rule without England’s aid. To fight England required the drawing into political life of the workingmen and farmers; once the colonies were free, would merchant and planter be able to dismiss the lower classes back to their subordinate role? The events of 1764–1766, when the workingmen backed up by mob violence frightened the merchants off for years. They wondered “whether the Men who excited this seditious Spirit in the People have it in their power to suppress it”. Many of those who became Tories did so, like Joseph Galloway of Pennsylvania, because they “feared the tyranny of mob rule more than the tyranny of Parliament”. Even James Otis roundly denounced mob riots, saying that “no possible circumstances, though ever so oppressive, could be supposed sufficient to justify private tumults and disorders”. The merchants and planters would have preferred to fight England by methods which did not require drawing the masses into the struggle. The formation, by Boston and New York workingmen, of the Sons of Liberty, which performed the actual work of violence in 1764 and 1765, and which did not grow into a revolutionary inter-colonial organization at that time only because the Stamp Act was repealed, was an alarming sign that the masses might go forward for their own objectives once the fight with England was over.

The menace of farmers’ demands was even more disturbing. In New England, the wealthier families had been able to take the lion’s share of the coastal lands only by suppressing the demands of the poorer farmers and the former indentured servants. The tidewater planters had pre-empted the rich tobacco lands, forcing former servants into the backwoods. The struggle over taxation found the same classes in opposition, the farmers particularly complaining that they paid on their whole estate while merchants easily concealed assets. Especially bitter was the struggle over paper money, the debtors desiring to pay off debts and taxes with progressively depreciating paper money, while the prospering merchants wanted stable currency; uprisings of debtors threatened, and Riot Acts were passed against them; it was only Parliament’s prohibition of paper money (1763), that turned the farmers’ attack from their home merchants to England. These economic oppositions naturally also found expression in a struggle over representation. Under the colonial charters, office-holders were required to have larger properties than voters, thus weeding out many representatives of the lower classes; property franchises were general throughout the colonies, leaving mechanics and artisans, and some of the farmers, especially former indentured servants, voteless; even more irksome was the inequitable representation of the “back country” as against the coastal counties, which was one of the most bitterly contested issues throughout the colonial period.

Class stood arrayed against class. This is the main explanation for the hesitation and dilatoriness of merchant and planter in launching the final struggle against England. But they finally had to plunge.

The exigencies of revolutionary warfare gave more and more power to the artisans and backwoods farmers. Not only England’s restraining hand disappeared, but a large part of the upper classes – British placemen, commercial agents, great landowners and merchants – sided with England, and had to be suppressed. The local Committees of Safety took over most governmental powers. They took charge of providing armed forces for the struggle. But, since the loyalists were far more numerous than the British army ever became, the apparatus for suppressing the loyalists was even more important. It was, in fact, civil war; and to wage it successfully meant political activization of the masses. Disarming parties went from house to house to seize loyalist weapons. Terrorization of loyalists by mob violence, tarring and feathering, arbitrary arrest, forcible exile, suspension of all their civil rights, forced confessions or recantations, confiscation of property, and not a few executions; “the patriot organization for holding in check and destroying loyalism was fully as systematic, elaborate and far-reaching as the military establishment which Washington and his generals directed against the British regular army,” says a noted authority, Fisher. The local committees had, of course, no legal basis; they had no status other than revolutionary necessity. As the revolution progressed, however, they had grown so accustomed to dealing with the loyalists, that they regarded it as an established and legalized procedure; an account of tars and feathers inflicted on a New Jersey loyalist closes with the words: “The whole was conducted with that regularity and decorum that ought to be observed in all public punishments.”

The astute leaders of the merchants and planters were clearly aware of the dangers involved in thus drawing in the masses into state power. Alexander Hamilton tried to check confiscation of property and expulsion of loyalists but was powerless, even after the treaty of peace of 1783. In 1784 the loyalists in New York were disfranchised and disqualified from holding office, and debts due them were cancelled on condition that one-fortieth was paid into the state treasury. Hamilton saw his natural allies driven out by an agrarian majority who were his natural enemies. Earlier in the struggle, contemplating the “rule of the mob”, John Adam was so troubled that he asked:

“Is this the object for which I have been contending, said I to myself … are these the sentiments of such people, and how many of them are there in the country? Half the nation, for what I know; for half the nation are debtors, if not more; and these have been in all countries the sentiments of debtors. If the power of the country should get into such hands, and there is a great danger that it will, to what purpose have we sacrificed our time, health and everything else?” (Works, Vol. II, p. 420)

One of the many hundreds of people enslaved by Mr. Madison, Anthony by name, disregards the Constitution.

The masses had their way, too, about issuance of a progressively depreciating currency. Having “commonly pledged the half or whole of their estates for the preservation of their sacred liberties”, the provincial bodies evinced a uniform determination to pass the sacrifice on by way of a depreciating currency. Any opposition to this course was frustrated by the need of mass support for the struggle. As the currency depreciated and men refused to sell lands, houses or merchandize for nearly worthless paper, their stores were closed or pillaged, merchants mobbed, fined and imprisoned, as the agrarian-controlled legislatures declared the Continentals legal tender. Congress, if anything, outdid the state legislatures, for after a solemn declaration that the Continentals would not be depreciated – ”A bankrupt, faithless republic would be a novelty in the political world, and appear among respectable nations like a common prostitute among chaste and respectable matrons” – Congress adopted six months later a plan to redeem the money at one-fortieth of its nominal value. Progressive depreciation enabled the farmers to pay off debts and taxes; the last years of the war was a debtors’ paradise. Madison is authority for the statement that the paper-money laws and the “stay-laws” against foreclosures were the primary reason for calling the Constitutional Convention.

The small farmers controlled the revolutionary state governments which superseded the colonial charters. They did not do away with property qualifications for suffrage, so that a large part of the mechanics and artisans, as well as some former indentured servants, remained voteless, a condition for which the agrarians were to pay dearly when the Constitution was submitted to the electorate; but the new state governments gave sufficiently more equitable representation to the back country to enable the farmers to hold consistent majorities.

The form of government introduced by the agrarian majorities confirmed all the fears of the conservatives. The colonial governments had been, generally, subordinated to a royal- or proprietary-appointed governor who appointed the members of the upper legislative house, convened and dissolved the legislature, had an unqualified veto power over it, and appointed the judges and all other civil and military officers. In sharp contrast to this, the new state governments were based on the principle of legislative supremacy. The governor’s veto power was entirely abolished in all but two states, his appointive power taken away or restricted, his term of office cut to one year in ten states, in New York and New England he was elected by the voters, in the other eight states by the legislature. The supremacy of the legislature is also shown by its powers over the judiciary; in nine states the judges were elected by the legislature, in the others they were controlled by the legislature’s hold on governor and council who did the appointing. Annual elections of judges in three states, removal in six states by the executive on an address from the legislature, and simple methods of impeachment by the legislature, guaranteed considerable direct control over the judiciary. Most important of all, the judges had no power of voiding laws of the legislature, The theory of division of powers among legislative, executive and judicial departments, the system of checks and balances, embodied later in the Constitution, find no semblance in the constitutions of the revolutionary state governments.

The first federal constitution, the Articles of Confederation, framed under the impulse of the revolution, is also a democratic document. All the powers were vested in a single legislative body, the Continental Congress, which was unchecked by an executive or judiciary.

Fiercely opposed to the levelling doctrines of these governments, merchant and planter nevertheless submitted for the duration of the revolution; for the brunt of the struggle lay on the farming masses and the artisans, who took seriously the democratic implications of the theory of natural rights by which the revolution was justified. The sailors’ and workers’ interests were directly bound up with perpetuation and expansion of colonial commerce, and the farmers of the Northern and Middle Colonies were dependent for cash incomes on the sale of their cereals and meats to the West Indies and Europe; this provided common ground with the merchants and planters. But the masses had their own grievances against England: prohibition of paper currency, vetoing of debtor legislation, raising of cost of goods by duties, levying of direct taxes, and these were the issues which made the revolution popular. The literature of the time shows, too, that the masses understood that further liberty could come only after England was out of the way. In their opposition to the democratic state governments, their paper money and stay-laws, merchant and planter dared not come into fundamental opposition to the objectives for which the masses were laying down their lives. As one contemporary put it:

Thoughtful patriots, who deplored the confusion, the turmoil and the mobs, nevertheless felt satisfied that it was a phase through which we must pass, a price which we must pay for independence. The long years of anarchy were trying, terrible and disgusting; but to remain the political slaves of England was, they said, infinitely worse.’

They bided their time.

Once the treaty of peace was signed in 1783, the conservatives began to fight back. One of the main issues was depreciating paper money. In 1785 seven legislatures emitted new paper money, and the atmosphere of the struggle against it was one of impending civil war. When an armed mob in New Hampshire demanded unlimited paper money; when mobs in Massachusetts prevented the courts from sitting on foreclosure cases, and Daniel Shays attempted to close the courts altogether by armed force; when event after event showed merchant and planter that only a decisive transformation of the situation would insure their domination, there was talk among them of a military dictatorship, if necessary.

In the ensuing struggle from which they emerged so victorious, they were aided by the historical impotence of the agrarian population, with its narrow, provincial outlook. The agrarian opposition remained locked up in each state, often unconnected within the boundaries of one state; of a tendency toward a national coordination or organization of the agrarian forces, there was not a sign. The agrarians proved incapable of understanding the need of a centralized government for the further development of commerce and industry. The only opposition to merchant and planter which might have been successful was one which could combine democratic demands with centralized governmental power. Such a program could not come from the agrarians, with their hopelessly local outlook. They opposed every attempt to increase the powers of the government while it was still under the democratic Articles of Confederation. They levied duties on goods transported from one state to another, and carried on commercial wars of retaliation with each other, so that shipping and manufacturing were handicapped by multiple and conflicting tariff policies. The finances of the Confederation were dependent on payments by the agrarian legislatures, which held them back, with the result that even the interest on foreign obligations was unpaid, the revolutionary soldiers did not receive the funds voted them, and the government was paralyzed. Rival claims of the states, the inability of the government to provide protection and facilities for settlement, kept the Western lands closed. The lack of a national currency was an impediment to national commerce and industry. These various needs provided the conservatives with powerful arguments in favor of the Constitution; actually they were arguments only in favor of a strong national government, and in no way justified the anti-democratic character of the Constitution. But this was a distinction which the agrarians were incapable of making.

U.S. population, 1790.

So long as the revolutionary struggle provided a common objective for all classes, and the national army and navy and the Continental Congress (permitted wide powers during the struggle) provided a national framework, the farmers had, by their local assumption of power against the loyalists, constituted the flesh and blood of a powerful, national state power. But when the classes went their separate ways, the power of the farmers frittered itself away in petty local struggles; they even lost control of some of the state legislatures. This incapacity for large-scale common action is all the more damning as a characteristic of the agrarian population, if one takes into consideration that the American agrarians were not subsistence farmers, but commercial farmers dependent in large measure on cash crops. Money payment of taxes, that sure index to the development of a highly-developed commercial agriculture, was established in Massachusetts as early as 1694 and soon became universal. Under the leadership of the bourgeoisie, they had fought against the England which closed its ports to their cereals and meats and hampered trade with the foreign West Indies and Europe; but when England, after the Revolution, continued to close its ports to their produce, they would not give the national government the necessary powers to institute retaliatory measures. Further development of commercial agriculture clearly depended on a strong state power, the growth of cities, the development commerce and industry; the agrarians could see no further than their county-seats.

The largest section of the population, then, the freehold farmer, was incapable of bringing forward a program which combined the necessary national centralization with democratic forms of government. The artisans and mechanics in the towns, resembling more the prototype of the manufacturing entrepreneur than the proletarian, earning comparatively good wages, and daily aware of the dependence of his well-being on the development of capitalist enterprise, constituted too small and rapidly changing a class to bring forward the necessary program.

The former revolutionary vanguard, the ideologists like Samuel Adams and Josiah Warren, Jefferson, Madison and Patrick Henry who had rallied the farming masses against England with their passionate enunciations of the rights of man, not only did not come forward to provide leadership to the masses in the new situation but sided with their enemies. This significant fact is obscured the struggles which came after the Constitution, and therefore deserves emphasis. Adams, Warren and their associates from the commercial bourgeoisie returned after the Revolution to their class allegiance, and played no further role; this is sufficiently indicated by the fact that Samuel Adams, in the debates over the Constitution, supported the principle of judicial supremacy.

‘Yeoman’ farmer Thomas Jefferson’s modest pile. Monticello Not shown, over 400 people enslaved by there.

Jefferson, Madison and Henry represented the interests of planting aristocracy of the tidewater regions of the South, large scale commercial farmers producing one main cash crop (tobacco). They were scarcely the bearers of a democratic tradition; they were then passing from the use of dictatorially-treated indentured servants to chattel Negro slaves as their main labor supply; they had pre-empted the best growing lands and driven the smaller farmers back into the piedmont region; in the state legislature they were fighting the representatives of the back-country. Before the Revolution one of their chief links to the small farmer New England and the middle colonies had been their common interest in depreciating paper currency; for the peculiar business relations between the planters and their British agents (who extended credit before selling the crop, resulting in chronic over-buying by the planters) made the planters perennial debors; British claims after the war were almost entirely against plantation provinces. But having successfully repudiated debts to England, the planters had become terrified during the war at the effects of paper money, and joined now with the merchants to prohibit it. Indeed, the sole link between the Southern planters and the small farmers was a reactionary one: the provincial demand for states rights against centralized government. But the planters were also the chief speculators in Western lands, and could not cash in without the aid of a centralized government. Concessions were made to them, in the constitution (three-fifths) of slaves to be counted for representation and taxation; importation of slaves not to be forbidden before a lapse of twenty years; as a check on commercial agreements detrimental to the planters a two-third Senate vote for ratifying treaties; equal representation of states in the Senate) but they had nothing to do with democracy.

Planter Edmund Randolph.

The planters were later to fall out with the commercial bourgeoisie, when Hamilton’s bold and far-seeing policy of developing commerce and industry showed by its first fruits that the planters were eventually to become subordinate; and then the planter ideologists, seeking the agrarian masses as allies, reverted to the democratic slogans of the Revolution. But on the main issues against the agrarian masses, the planter ideologists joined the mercantile aristocracy in drafting the Constitution.

Merchant and planter vied with each other in denouncing legislative supremacy and finding ways and means to do away with it in the Constitution. Randolph of Virginia, seeking a “cure for the evils under which the United States labored”, declared that “in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy; that some check therefore was to be sought for against this tendency; and a good Senate seemed most likely to answer the purpose”. Another planter ideologist, Madison, declared the problem before the Constitutional Convention was to secure private rights “against majority factions”, and warned:

“An increase of population will of necessity increase the proportion of those who will labor under all the hardships of life and secretly sigh for a more equal distribution of its blessings. These may in time outnumber those who are placed above the feelings of indigence. According to the equal law of suffrage, the power will slide into the hands of the former. No agrarian attempts have yet been made in this country, but symptoms of a levelling spirit, as we have understood, have sufficiently appeared, in a certain quarter, to give notice of the future danger.” (Debates, Elliot, Vol. V, p. 243.)

Such was this great democrat’s conclusions from Shays’ Rebellion!

The banner-bearer of “Jeffersonian Democracy” was American Minister in Paris during the Constitutional Convention. In a letter to Madison, dated December 20, 1787, Jefferson wrote:

Conservative attack depicting Jefferson kneeling on the ‘Gallic Altar.’

“I like the organization of the government into Legislative, Judiciary and Executive … And I like the negative given to the Executive with a third of either house, though I should have liked it better had the Judiciary been associated for that purpose, or invested with a separate and similar power.”

In other letters of that year Jefferson said the bill of rights was needed “to guard liberty against the legislative as well as the executive branches” and was to be favored because of “the legal check which it puts into the hands of the judiciary”. That his later quarrel with the Federalist-controlled Supreme Court was not as the champion of democracy, but as the reactionary defendant of states rights, is seen from a letter of 1798 in which Jefferson, speaking of his own state of Virginia, writes that “the laws of the land, administered by upright judges, would protect you from any exercise of power unauthorized by the Constitution of the United States” (Writings, Vol. IV, p. 475; Vol. V, p. 76; Vol. VII, p. 281.)

Patrick Henry, though he was not at the Constitutional Convention, declared that it was “the highest encomium of this country, that the acts of the legislature, if unconstitutional, are liable to be opposed by the judiciary”.

The position of the planter ideologists is here emphasized because their later struggle with the Federalists has tended to obscure their essential agreement with the Federalists on the drafting of an anti-democratic Constitution.

The Old Royal Exchange, in New York City,. First meeting of the Court held here in February 1790.

How thoroughly did the Convention extirpate the democratic conquests won by the masses in the Revolution! So long as the Constitution endured, there would never again be a “debtor majority” that could legally have its way. The so-called division of powers, of checks and balances, had no other function except to prevent such a majority. No matter how far the suffrage would be extended, the majority would never rule. “Who would have thought, ten years ago, that the very men who risked their lives and fortunes in support of republican principles would now treat them as the fictions of fancy?” declared an agrarian at the New York ratifying convention. The Constitutional Convention combined its anti-democratic aims with political astuteness, however; democratic ideas had made sufficient progress among the masses to put an insurmountable obstacle in the way of any plan of government which did not pretend to confer the form of political power upon the people; this form was provided in the House of Representatives, for as Elbridge Gerry nicely put it, “the people should appoint one branch of the government in order to inspire them with the necessary confidence”. It was a wise move and has served to obscure the essentially undemocratic character of the Constitution ever since.

Having given the people the semblance of power, the representatives of property reserved for themselves the reality: A small Senate. Executive control over the Congress. Judicial supremacy over the Congress. [1] Presidential power to send troops into states to suppress domestic insurrection. Overwhelming obstacles to amendment of the Constitution. Various limitations on the power of the states, especially a prohibition against emission of paper currency. In masterly fashion and with eyes ever on their objective of safeguarding property rights and forever preventing majority rule, merchant and planter ideologists wrote a document which has effectively served their descendants for a hundred and fifty years.

Den of Thieves meets.

To a Marxist, it is obvious that the relationship of forces made inevitable the forcing through of the planter-merchant plan of government. With an extraordinary cadre of leadership, easily the equal of that available in any bourgeois revolution; with the two different sections of the ruling class united harmoniously for the struggle to establish the Constitution; with the working class, the only possible class which could oppose the anti-democratic program and yet propose a program of national centralization, as yet present only, one might say, in the interstices of commercial capitalism; with the vast majority, the agrarian masses, dispersed over a large territory with no facilities for common action and with no understanding of the national tasks – it was a foregone conclusion that the Constitution would be imposed.

Nevertheless, it is interesting to note with what intelligent strategy the conservatives moved. The Constitutional Convention itself was called ostensibly to suggest amendments to the Articles of Confederation, which would be submitted to the state legislatures, the unanimous consent of which was required under the Articles. Circumspection was necessitated by the often-voiced opposition of the agrarians to any considerable overhauling and strengthening of the Articles. By every means at their command, the merchants and planters managed to send their best minds to the Convention. When the fifty-five delegates met, they boldly put aside the Articles and prepared an entirely new document. Instead of submitting it to the Confederation and the agrarian-controlled state legislatures for further revision and perhaps total rejection, they embodied in the Constitution itself the means of its adoption, that it be submitted to special state conventions and go into force as soon as nine conventions approved it. The lack of legal continuity between the Confederation and the Constitution has been a source of embarrassment to constitutional commentators; Professor Burgess, more forthright than the rest, terms it a coup d’état.

‘The looking glass for 1787. A house divided against itself cannot stand. Mat. chap. 13th verse 26.’

The ablest pens in America deluged a literate population with dire threats of total chaos if the Constitution were not adopted. The agrarians complained truly enough that if they only had equally talented spokesmen they might have a fairer chance of victory. The opposition, in fact, was left largely in the dark. The Constitutional Convention had not only carried on its deliberations behind doors closed to the public, but had kept no official minutes of the proceedings and debates. It was not until fifty years later, after Madison’s death and the publication of his journals, that any real insight into the deliberations became public property.

Without leadership and without an alternative program, the agrarians fought desperately but hopelessly. They had short-sightedly failed to abolish property qualifications for suffrage; they paid for it now by losing the possible votes of the lower classes in the towns. The conservatives put forward their ablest men for the special conventions, including the honored names of the Revolution; poured enormous funds into the election; flooded the country with literature and newspapers and talked the agrarian delegates to exhaustion in the conventions. With a clear vision of their objectives, they made a single mighty effort; after Shays’ Rebellion many of them had declared themselves ready to use military force and we may be sure they would have had they failed to carry the Constitution; but, though by a narrow-enough margin, they carried it and thereby riveted its principles on the American masses for as long as the masses continue to play within the rules laid down for them by their masters.

‘The Life of Washington.’

The Founding Fathers were more terrified of majorities than they need have been. “The press is indeed a great means of diminishing the evil; yet it is found to be unable to prevent it altogether,” said Gouverneur Morris, who naturally could not foresee the infinitely greater scope of modern methods of indoctrination – movie, radio, tabloid, public school, etc. – and the power of modern political machines with their armies of precinct captains, ward-heelers and thugs. Any serious struggle of the masses can find at best only an extremely imperfect reflection in the parliamentary arena. Witness the fact that no workers’ representative of any variety sits today in Congress.

The arena of constitutional government is, in fact, an arena in which only those whose differences are subordinate to their fundamentally common interests, can settle their differences with each other. Any serious outbreak of the class struggle will find the Constitution scrapped by both sides.

Felix Morrow.

But even the sections of the bourgeoisie, in their struggle with each other, win advantages or lose them not in the realm of government but in the more important realm of production. The slaveholders controlled the national government, lock, stock and barrel, front 1848 to 1860, yet it was precisely in those years that industrial capitalism finally outstripped the South. Teddy Roosevelt “busted” the trusts, Wilson brought the “New Democracy” to Washington – to the end that it had finally to be admitted that trustification was here to stay. How much more true, therefore, must it be that the working class will win its battles outside the parliamentary arena!

This was once a commonplace of the Left-wing labor movement; only the degeneration of the Comintern makes it necessary to stress such an elementary fact. In every capitalist country, including America, the strike weapon was illegal until long after the workers, by struggle in the industrial arena, had actually won the right to strike by the simple method of persisting in its use. Only after this became an accomplished fact were the laws revised. To strike is now a right under bourgeois democracy: yet the specific content of the right varies from state to state and from year to year; for its actual content is based, not on the given law, but on the real relation of class forces in the given situation.

The electoral struggle has its functions in a well-rounded revolutionary movement; Liebknecht, Lenin and Trotsky have shown us how a tribune ascending the rostrum can call the masses to struggle. But the object of struggle will be secured, not in the parliamentary arena, but in the field and factory and street. Only that power welded by hands joined in field and factory and street can be relied on by the proletariat today.

Let the liberals and the Stalinists build their reformist edifices; they will crumble at the first blow. We, however, still stand with Marx in his answer to the reformists of his day: “It is only in an order of things in which there will be no longer classes or class antagonism that social evolutions will cease to be political revolutions. Until then, on the eve of each general reconstruction of society, the last word of social science will ever be:

“Combat or death: bloody struggle or extinction,
It is thus that the question is irresistibly put.”


The numerous ignorant and mendacious statements on this question recently made by the Stalinists would require too much space to correct. But one must expose their fantastic assertion that the Constitutional Convention three times voted down proposals to delegate to the Supreme Court the power of judicial review (Sunday Worker, Jan. 19). What the Convention thrice voted down was a proposal that the judges be associated with the President in the exercize of the veto power. Madison, who supported the proposal, as “an additional opportunity [for the court] of defending itself against legislative encroachments”, nevertheless hesitated to extend the court’s jurisdiction to every and all cases under the Constitution. On the other hand, those who spoke against the proposal were among the most outspoken advocates of judicial supremacy; Elbridge Gerry, for example, in opposing it declared that the judges already had the power to pass on the constitutionality of all legislation. The debate on the veto power proposal is significant, in actuality, as proof of the opposite of the Stalinist claim; for in the debate was clearly enunciated the principle of judicial supremacy. The interested reader should consult Charles A. Beard, The Supreme Court and the Constitution (1912), which, to any serious student, conclusively proves that the framers of the Constitution intended to’ give such powers to the Supreme Court, and that this was generally understood.

The New International began as the theoretical organ of the Communist League of America, formed in 1928 by supporters of The International Left Opposition in the Communist Party. The CLA merged with the American Workers Party led by AJ Muste to form the Workers Party of the U.S. in Dec 1935 before intervening in the Socialist Party, at which time this magazine was suspended. After leaving the SP, the main Trotskyist forces formed the Socialist Workers Party in 1938 and resumed publication. In the split of 1940, the Bureaucratic Collectivist faction who no longer defended the Soviet Union, left the Party and held on to the magazine; the SWP then produced ‘The Fourth International’ as their organ of theory.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/ni/vol03/no01/v03n01-w13-feb-1936-new-int.pdf

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