Should the left celebrate the 4th of July?

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Should Independence Day be a cause of celebration for Americans? What does this commemoration of the Declaration of Independence really mean in a nation whose history is tainted with criminal wars, greed, racism and slavery?

On July 5, 1852, the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass didn’t mince words in his landmark speech “The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro”:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?” he asked. “A day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” He went on to call slaveholding America’s celebrations “a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.”

Yet he went on to conclude:

“Notwithstanding the dark picture I have this day presented, of the state of the nation, I do not despair of this country … I, therefore, leave off where I began, with hope. While drawing encouragement from the Declaration of Independence, the great principles it contains, and the genius of American Institutions, my spirit is also cheered by the obvious tendencies of the age.” He was referring to the growing abolitionist movement, which would triumph with the abolition of slavery only a decade later.

We are all still paying for the savagery of slavery and racism in America.

But at the same time the Declaration of Independence — and America’s foundation — is built on continually progressing — and revolutionary — principles as well. We are a country with a noble history of struggle for equality, secularism, liberty and civil rights.

It is too often forgotten that a radical internationalist and revolutionary named Tom Paine played a leading role in the American Revolution. Paine urged the end of monarchy, poverty, war and slavery from the beginning. His brilliant pamphlet “Common Sense,” issued on January 10, 1776, was considered the manifesto of the revolution. It strongly influenced Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence six months later, which in turn became the guiding principles for the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Karl Marx saw the American fight for independence as “the first impulse … to the European revolutions of the eighteenth century” and said its declaration “informed the whole world of the foundation of an independent great Democratic Republic on the American continent.” He called it the “first Declaration of the Rights of Man.”

Almost two centuries later in Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh called the opening words of the Declaration of Independence “immortal.”

And look where we are today — what has been accomplished.

An excerpt from Barack Obama’s groundbreaking “Towards a More Perfect Union” speech represents what is truly great about this country—and yet is still too often taken for granted.

Obama, noting his ancestors and diverse background, said, “For as long as I live, I will never forget that in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”

He did not skirt over the contradictions between the founding ideals of America and the realities of our past and present, yet he pointed to the potential at our nation’s core:

“The answer to the slavery question was already embedded within our Constitution — a Constitution that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that could be and should be perfected over time.”

No words on a parchment would be enough to deliver slaves from bondage, or provide men and women of every color and creed their full rights as citizens of the United States. Generations of Americans fought hard — through protests and struggles, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk — to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their times.

Unfortunately, in some circles on the American left, it’s not politically correct to take pride in America and our shared history.

Obviously, there’s a big difference between being a proud American and being a vulgar chauvinist or jingoist.

But not one democratic or socialist movement or revolution in history inspired its people by encouraging them to hate their country.

During the Russian Revolution the Bolsheviks’ slogan was “Bread! Peace! Land!” not “Screw Russia!” They did not direct their anger at Russia or its people but at the autocratic and corrupt czar and his allies.

And of course, love of country and national unity played essential roles in the revolutionary movements of countries such as Cuba and Vietnam.

So, for the Fourth of July, Independence Day, let’s remember the true revolutionary traditions of America.