Daniel Lazare wrote last week, regarding the USA: “While a source of endless pride, its 233-year-old constitution is in fact a gridlock machine that bottles up political passions and has allowed them to build up to explosive levels. The structure cries out for an overhaul from top to bottom. Yet a constitutional amending process that allows tiny minorities to veto even the most minor reforms makes it all but impossible. So complete is the paralysis that even the idea of structural reform has been lost” (‘An empire unravelling’, April 2).
Yes, but there is more to amending and replacing our constitutions in our tradition. That is, there is another path to amending or replacing our second constitution with a third one, a path different from article 5: a fully democratic path, hiding in plain sight, in some of the most quoted and widely known words in the English language.
Article 5 means that the process for amending the constitution is extremely difficult. “We, the People” delegated that right to public officials and state governments when we established our 1787 constitution. The procedures in article 5 mean amendments of, by and for the government.
There is the fully legal constitutional amending or replacing process described in the preamble and elaborated by its author, James Wilson, at the Pennsylvania Ratification Assembly, and in article 7 there is the legal precedent for enacting the preamble’s procedure - by “We, the People, The Sovereign Citizens”.
That is, on June 21 1788 - a date Americans don’t know and haven’t been taught - the voting procedure of majority-rule popular sovereignty abolished the first ‘Constitution of the Federal Government’ of 1777, and replaced it with the 1787 second constitution - in a fully legal way. The legality was perfectly described in Wilson’s two speeches at the Pennsylvania Ratification Assembly, with remarks widely circulated at the time.
Wilson said that:
- “We, the People” are sovereign.
- The “Self-governance Prime Directive” of majority-rule popular sovereignty is our way forward.
- There should be fully national popular sovereignty, as he asserted in Pennsylvania at the Ratification Assembly in late 1787.
- James Madison was wrong in his ‘Federalist No39’ essay (January 1788), with his nonsensical, self-contradictory concept of divided sovereignty - consistent with what Jefferson Davis asserted seven decades later, which led to the Civil War.
In fact, at the end of his 1996 book The frozen republic, Daniel Lazare makes the same assertion as Wilson: the people of a society have a collective right to govern by democratic majority rule (popular sovereignty).
He states: “The most fundamental freedom of all is the freedom of the democratic majority to alter the society around it as it sees fit, without any traditions or constitutional restraints to get in the way. This is the freedom on which all other freedoms depend. There can be no assurance that the people will use this freedom wisely, just as there can be no assurance that they will make wise use of free speech or a free press. But there is a total assurance that in the absence of such freedom politics will atrophy, society will die, and civil liberties will go with it. This is the lesson of the great Soviet experiment, when an absence of political democracy reduced socialism to an empty shell, and it is the lesson of the American experiment as well.”
This democratic side of our constitutional tradition - expressed then by James Wilson, Thomas Jefferson, George Mason, Samuel Adams and Thomas Paine; and today, by Lazare, Sanford Levinson, Larry Lessig, Richard Albert and others - is our way out of the catastrophe of oligarchy to create a new, third, fully modern American constitution: one that can enable us to enjoy a system that makes the will of the democratic majority of “We, the People” the law of the land. Akhil Reed Amar and Alan Hirsch made this utterly clear in their propaganda-penetrating book For the people.
I fully support Lazare’s call for a new, third constitution that he made in a January 2017 Jacobin article, ‘A constitutional revolution’. All Americans should read it, alongside the above-mentioned book by Amar and Hirsch, and his earlier, 1996 book The frozen republic: how the constitution is paralyzing democracy.
Kelly Patrick Gerling
The revolutionary left will have to be transformed - the coronavirus crisis will speed up changes that were already taking place before the crisis hit. We will see the end of the cash economy and its replacement by card and mobile phone payments. The coronavirus is speeding up this change due to cash being a big transmitter of the virus from one person to the next. The cash system will collapse. The distribution and collection of coins and notes costs the banks and UK society £5 billion a year, no matter how little cash is needed for exchange. There is also a big incentive for HM treasury and the Bank of England to bring about the end of the cash economy. Not only is cash used in the black economy for tax evasion, terrorism and organised crime, but the end of cash would allow them to introduce negative interest rates, whilst preventing people keeping thousands of pounds under the mattress.
At the same time, coronavirus is wiping out the hard-copy newspaper industry. Even before the crisis hit, The Sun newspaper was losing over £50 million a year. Not only will we see the welcome end of hard copies of The Sun, but we’ll see the closure of the Daily Star. The only viable option will be to introduce paywalls (the Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Times have already done this), or The Guardian model of relying on donations (each year two million readers across the world donate on a regular or one-off basis). This latter model is one I suggest for the Weekly Worker. Producing hard copies is a thing of the past and, as the revolutionary left have found out, it is a bottomless money pit.
Coronavirus is hitting all newspapers hard. The Wisbech Standard/Cambs Times has belatedly just made an appeal for donations from readers to keep it going. Similarly, I have received letters from Socialist Appeal, and Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism asking for donations, so that they can keep going whilst the coronavirus crisis continues. Socialist Appeal, FRFI, together with the Weekly Worker, have already stopped producing hard copies. It’s only a matter of time before The Socialist, Socialist Worker, Solidarity and the Morning Star follow suit. It seems that only Counterfire, which produces an occasional free sheet to advertise its website, and the World Socialist Web Site, which is entirely online, have their finger on the pulse, when it comes to the death of the hard-copy newspaper.
Robbie Rix tells us that the money saved each week by the Weekly Worker by not having the costs of a print run and postage has already paid for new computers for the editors, together with new software. When the coronavirus crisis is over things will never be the same. The revolutionary organisations that survive the crisis will be more streamlined and more attuned to the 21st century.
Coronavirus is clearly exposing neoliberalism and indeed capitalism itself, though I think that Maren Clarke is a little over-optimistic when she says, “Forget the transition to socialism taking decades - at this rate I think it can be achieved by the end of the year!” (Letters, April 2). I think that the idea that capitalism is the problem was quite widespread even before the pandemic - fed in large part by the realisation of what faces us with global warning.
But what to do? What will replace it? I looked online at definitions of communism and found this: “a theory or system of social organisation in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.” Fair enough. Another one said: “A totalitarian system of government, in which a single authoritarian party controls state-owned means of production” - which I think of as the J Edgar Hoover definition. Trouble is, the latter one is all too common.
“The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas”, as The German ideology has it. So the ruling class are not hanging around waiting for the masses of the world to see them as they are. Apart from anything else, they have the notion that one should never waste a crisis and even in the most myopic manner the vultures are already gathering. Richard Branson, being an entrepreneur, likes to lead from the front and has piled in early and heavy for ‘his share’, along with Philip Green, Boeing …
Again, what to do? There have been some letters over time that seem to think that the Weekly Worker crowd are swooning Corbynites, whose bolt is now shot; I must admit that I’ve never noticed that. I think it is clear that the Labour Party is an arena and not a vehicle and with its high membership (until we’re all expelled) it is still an arena worth fighting in. Also, given the resources available, I think said crowd is doing pretty well - note Dave Vincent’s ‘Best by far’ letter of April 2.
Regarding expulsions, it is clear that the newly invigorated machine can hardly control itself. Starmer commented in his acceptance speech: “Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities. On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry. And I will tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.” This confirms his idiocy, but it may take him a while to get rid of 300,000 or so members.
He and his fellow Blairites, who can accept a few socialists in the party, but can’t stand having to take any notice of them, will want to purge the membership, so that they can follow the normal, mainstream ‘centre’ of European social democrats down the plughole of history.
But there are still many socialists in there, and even communists (first definition above), and, yes, we should stay and fight. At the very, very least to annoy the Blairites. As an aside on that subject, I think that at the next Labour conference, if there is one, someone should take up the chant of, “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” which I think would be enthusiastically joined by many attendees. It would really get up some noses - but then they don’t understand English irony.
The Weekly Worker continues to be essential, even online, because it still points to the lessons and the necessity of action, even if we have to wait for the support. But we haven’t got long: the pandemic we are going through now is nothing compared to the global extinction we face in the not too distant future. As some have already found, being stuck in your own home is perhaps an improvement on having it burned down.
Rapidly the world has come to know how effective Covid-19 is at overwhelming the immunity systems of humans. What’s yet to arise is any recognition of its equally efficient potential for attacking other types of equilibrium - how, in parallel with the now quite possible ‘pandemic’ collapse of capitalism’s economic churnings, that virus might kill off the system itself. In a sense capitalism’s consumer comforts represent the reward to the working class for living under its terms and conditions of business - as such its cultural smokescreen, behind which to hide. All that culminates in what might be called an ‘equilibrium of tolerated abuse’ with the working class.
In the background but also underpinning absolutely everything concerned in this caboodle are these two factors. Firstly, that without fire raging unquenchable in our belly, without an overriding awareness of and utter disgust with the circumstances imposed by capitalism and imperialism upon the ultra-exploited and finitely oppressed of the world, nothing from us on the far left will mean a goddamn thing! There’s nothing to beat real-life engagement with ordinary people as an integral part of their real experiences.
Secondly there’s this consideration. War economies require that very thing - ie, war - to generate corporate profits; right now any conflagration of a sufficiently useful magnitude is not on the cards, so from where are those lost profits going to be regained? Answer: predominantly from the working class and non-stakeholding population. That’s assuming those self-same folk remain obedient, placid, compliant, tamed, haunted.
All of which brings these matters back to where they started: namely, to that combination of energetic divergence of argument and encouragement to challenge, as are features of the Weekly Worker. Maybe it’s worth noting also how Keir Starmer as Corbyn’s replacement, along with that neatly performed carting off of Bernie Sanders to the political cemetery, together represent a flipping back of the polar magnetic fields.
I wish to clear up a silly mistake I made in my article, ‘Reformism, Corbynism and the CPGB’ (April 2).
Of course, in 1920 Sylvia Pankhurst was opposed to Labour affiliation, whereas I stated the opposite. But this doesn’t detract from my argument.
Contrary to Rex Dunn, there is no atomisation of the working class and can never be, as an ideological bone holds us together. ‘Atomisation’ is a university word that is born and lives in theory. It was thought up by the louts who make up the university staff, together with those in society like journalists and others.
‘Educated layers of the working class’ is a contradiction in terms, as ‘education’ doesn’t just mean knowledge, but also a way of life that requires significant sums of money to allow an idle life. That is what the word means for the 180,000 families that are directly descended from those who ruled the British empire. The so-called ‘middle class’, who hardly have a penny to rub their hands with and who hate the working class, have their own demented ideas about what constitutes education. The media they access tells them how clever they are in order to maintain their mental health and to put them on the right consciousness.