The Spirt of American Rebellion

The United States of America stands as one of the most powerful entities in the history of the world. It has the largest military with over 700 military bases established on foreign soil and a $600 billion defense budget. On top of that, the US is also one of the most centralized states in the world. While the government is divided into separate branches, the state exists on a strict hierarchy with command consolidated under the executive branch.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world as a by product from achieving the most entrenched form of capitalism to date. Common law has legalized corporate manipulation of politics as well as concentrated wealth into the hands of a few white men while speculators gamble with public money. In parallel to this, the US has resorted to blowing the tops off of mountains upon excavating the last of the surface minerals, polluting farm lands in search of natural gas, and creating decaying urban environments all the while pushing peoples off their land.

While public high schools teach us how America timidly ended up saving the world a handful of times to take on the mantle of Guardian of the World, history shows us that the US is just as bloody and territorial as the other empires of the 20th century. Teachers paint the Founding Fathers as geniuses far ahead of their time who established a republic representing the ideals of a liberal democracy. In reality, this country was formed as a pact between southern planters and northern merchants in order to maintain their own control over the colonies.

Luckily, there has been popular resistance to the imperialist influence of the American elite throughout history. The American Revolution was driven by agrarian populism generated by a nation of subsistence farmers. The movement had its roots in the Regulator War in North Carolina a decade earlier when disgruntled farmers fought to overthrow the corrupt colonial government. This rough notion of agrarian socialism became the founding spirit of the American Revolution.

American patriots, such as Daniel Shays of Massachusetts, inspired by these values fought against the emerging proto-capitalist culture in the days leading up to the establishment of the American Constitution. Even after its ratification, citizens still rebelled against the new moneyed aristocracy, the most famous of these being the Whiskey Rebellion of Pennsylvania. The grievances of all of these movements bore similarities. The sustainable subsistence lifestyle of rural citizens was not compatible with the competitive nature of urban capitalism. These governments, mostly represented by merchants and speculators, levied heavy taxes against the rural population to encourage assimilation into industrial economics.

The agrarian rebellions that occurred during the early formation of the United States show that the revolutionary transition period did not occur smoothly. In fact, the suppression of populism and dissent by the turn of the century built resentment that defined the anti-establishment current that runs through the American populace today.

In the American spirit, marginalized peoples continued to struggle throughout American history. Slave rebellions ran rampant for the first half of the 19th century with people like Nat Turner and John Brown becoming martyrs for abolition. The freed blacks would continue to resist state violence during Jim Crow segregation, through the Civil Rights Movement and up to contemporary mass incarceration.

Similarly, ethnic immigrants struggled for autonomy. The Irish were plagued with homelessness and vagrancy due to their status as outcasts. Their backlash is best represented by the New York Draft Riots in which thousands of poor Irish protested against forced conscription during the Civil War. Italians, Poles, Germans, and Eastern Europeans found solidarity in the labor movement which became a major engine in ethnic politics. The struggle against wage slavery helped establish a limited work day, workplace benefits, and better wages, allowing for these ethnic minorities to become part of the mainstream.

While the US waged class warfare domestically, it engaged in ethnic removal to the west as part of an attempt to expand capitalism. Droves of plains Indians were systematically captured, killed, or removed in a series of wars that severely crippled the country’s indigenous population. Today, native resistance can be found in the American Indian Movement.

The history of the United States is the history of democratic resistance against the established order. Instead of focusing on presidents and robber barons, let us have an American history that describes how the vast majority of us ended up where we are today.