“The history of our revolution,” wrote John Adams, “will be one continued lie from one end to the other.” Although his statement was followed by a spiteful attack against Benjamin Franklin and George Washington-people would only remember Dr. Franklin’s electrical rod smote the earth and out sprang General Washington, and it was these two who conducted all the policy, negotiation, legislatures and war-his initial assertion had merit. Despite what many believe, the American Revolution was not that revolutionary, neither was it democratic. As often happens during times of political upheaval, revolutionaries become reactionaries. Those writing about democracy became despots.
Is this the real reason the United States is unable to recognize Ukraine’s democratic revolution? Following Crimea’s self-rule referendum to secede, citizens in Donetsk did the same. With 89 percent voting “yes!” they formed the popular People’s Republic of Donetsk. Other cities and regions are also protesting and rebelling against a US supported Ukrainian government that is extremely corrupt and highly authoritative. Sadly, their revolutionary acts are being met with repression and death. In Slovyansk, Ukrainian troops killed five protesters. Dozens of revolutionaries were burned alive in Odessa when Ukrainians set ablaze the local House of Trade Unions.
The American Revolution was England’s second civil war, an intercontinental struggle. A transplanted aristocracy manipulated poor farmers, merchants and the indigenous into fighting by promising them liberty and justice. As it concluded, oligarchic rulers became reactionaries, quickly diluting participatory democracy. Most Americans were excluded from voting since it was based on property, race and gender. Republicanism was even constrained with a series of covert meetings and militarily enforced social contracts. A bureaucratic and exclusionary government-imbued with expansive powers to regulate liberties, commerce and popular movements-would crush future and genuine revolutions.
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Ukraine and Russia have rich histories regarding legitimate revolutions. Before England’s political adjustment in North America, Russia’s Yemelyan Ivanovich Pugachev led a revolution decreeing the abolition of serfdom. Land and wealth was evenly redistributed. Factories were taken over by revolutionary workers’ councils. Rights like voting, speech, press, religion, and a fair trial, became universal. Nestor Makhno, a Ukrainian peasant and anarchist leader, led many popular revolts during Russia’s 1905 Revolution. In the midst of Russia’s third revolution of the twentieth century, he promoted democratic and egalitarian principles throughout Ukrainian territories. Valid revolutions seldom wane.
On the contrary, America’s new rulers abhorred revolutionary principles. Their intransigent tendencies were reflected and reinforced in a constitution consisting of an elaborate system of checks and balances and a complicated process known as separation of powers. An Electoral College played an oppressive role in electing an enlightened despot. A judicial system was designed to crush popular protests and movements-such as Shay’s Rebellion. In the minds of America’s new power brokers, “We the People” exclusively meant only them. Everyone else-landless, women, worker, slaves, indigenous, indentured servants, children, etc…-were considered, even treated, as property.
In the US the pace of political and economic change has been de-revolutionary. It took decades, and in some cases more than a century, for the landless and working classes, women and blacks, to achieve suffrage. As an enlightened despotic, minority and wealthy class institutionalized inequality while promoting disengagement, genocide awaited Native Americans. The so-called American Revolution created a political and economic system that was not born of democracy, but born with a bias against democracy, even a deep hostility that still haunts the United States today. If not for vast tracts of land and conscription, which defused many internal conflicts, the US would have imploded.
Because popular participation is still absent from geopolitical landscapes, because imaginative democracy has been deconstructed, America’s revolutionary spirit is still incomplete, shallow at best. This is why the current regime and corporate-military media announced it will never acknowledge referendums in eastern Ukraine, and why it considered the voting “illegal.” It is the reason they applauded attempts to disrupt popular protests and the right to vote, calling it the work of “terrorists.” The US itself cannot recognize revolutions because it has been deprived of revolutions, of making democratic activities illegal, of nullifying rights, of making equality punishable by death.
Even worse are the threats of sending armed forces, of destroying Ukrainian democracy. But in America’s Orwellian society, democratic participation is labeled terrorism. Those who seek freedom and liberty are terrorists. Yet Ukrainians are questioning these false premises. They are challenging enormous debt, taxation without representation, standing armies in times of peace, a corrupt market economy and a lack of rights and inequality- all of which reflects an existing government that has become destructive in its end. Unlike most Americans, they are pursuing the consent of the governed, establishing their own government and identity, their own sovereign right to determine the future.
John Adams also wrote: “A large and complex government is, by definition, more difficult to hold accountable. But the ability of people to hold officials responsible for what they do remains the truest measure of a democracy.” Whereas the English aristocracy never did collapse in the 13 American colonies, aristocracy is collapsing in eastern Ukraine. Demonstrations and popular revolts should be lauded. Meanwhile, Americans should be humbled, since democracy has died a thousand deaths in their own nation, and since enlightened despots have seldom been held accountable for their destructive actions and policies.
Without ever having experienced a profound revolution or truly believing in the “right” of authentic change, the US has lived a superficial, mortal democracy. Through corporate institutions and monopolistic practices, freedoms have been marketed, ideals of liberty and justice commodified and exploited. While devouring its own revolutions and popular movements which longed for equal access, it has militarily repressed and destroyed other revolutions around the world. Will the same happen in Ukraine?
(1) This is quoted from Albert Ojuka’s “Pedestrian, to Passing Benz-Man.” Ojuka is a Kenyan poet who voices popular discontent with Kenya’s current economic inequality.