Thomas Paine: A Revolutionary Light

Thomas Paine, with fiery passion and revolutionary fortitude distributed his literature throughout the first 13 colonies with the penalty of treason on his head. Agitation swept the American workers and farmers into a heap and energized them enough to take up arms in the ranks of a colonial militia against the world’s most powerful empire. Tom is mostly forgotten and only brought back to recollection with the ramblings of Glenn Beck and his knock-off cooption of Paine’s revolutionary pamphlet. Thomas Paine though, laid the foundations for American Democracy in its youngest form. In the modern USA it is obvious that the American rhetoric was owned by the landed interests and did not meet the stated assurances of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. As Communists, we are compelled to weigh the rhetoric of American Democracy against its realization in material ways. Marx explains:

People cannot be liberated, as long as they are unable to obtain food and drink, housing and clothing in adequate quality and quantity. ‘Liberation’ is a historical and not a mental act and it is brought about by historical conditions.

Looking at the statistics of atrocities the conditions seem bleak; over 20 transwomen were murdered in 2015, the rising rate of youth homelessness and intense wealth disparities, just to name a few, are telltale signs that the American experiment was not a result of a revolution carried out to its conclusion. But what if lying inside the many sectors of American liberal thought, resides a pure Democratic-Republican that sought collective unity and welfare, the state as an instrument of People’s rule in a very simplistic majoritarian sense and a conception of justice as equal right and opportunity to the world’s resources? This would break our dogmatic slumber away from the slave owning patriarchs of Washington, Hamilton and Madison.

Thomas Paine gave passionate words to the world’s peasants and poor and prophetically proclaimed that the American Revolution as the first of its kind and will roll violently into every Monarchial state and dismantle it acting in the spirit of the people towards a point of justice; seeing the great victory of the American merchants and peasants over the King. Paine was certainly correct about Democracy spreading and toppling Monarchy; the European reforms and the French Revolution were certainly a carryover of the Revolutionary American experience. Thomas Paine in Common Sense wrote to each common American, and explained the very heart of the problem of colonial tyranny. Hundreds of thousands of copies were read in coffee houses and taverns all over American, spreading the Democratic ideal to everyone and instigating a popular movement to establish a nation-wide consciousness and reveal to the people the real nature of the King and his parliament. Paine enticed the American population to take up arms and to use the power of the majority to move the hand of tyranny off their edge of the map. Marx and Engels said that the American Revolution had “initiated a new era of ascendancy for the middle class” and considered the American Civil War to be the continuation of the Democratic revolution of 1776. If Thomas Paine’s recommendations for a policy of human welfare and equal right had been implemented, and the Democratic revolution be felt by every citizen, maybe the contradictions between human rights and capital in the American Civil War would not have existed, and the USA could have progressed without the violent breaking point that cost so many millions of American and immigrant lives. This is all hindsight of course, but Tom Paine, long forgotten and not considered believed the American revolution had objectives and a positive responsibility to create Democratic-Republicanism in real, palpable way without the influence of Primogeniture and profit motive.

Thomas Paine then went to take on the slave-owners as a radical and claimed the issue should appeal to Justice and Humanity:

That some desperate wretches should be willing to steal and enslave men by violence and murder for gain, is rather lamentable than strange. But that many civilized, nay, Christianized people should approve, and be concerned in the savage practice, is surprising; and still persist, though it has been so often proved contrary to the light of nature, to every principle of Justice and Humanity, and even good policy, by a succession of eminent men, and several late publications.

Thomas Paine interestingly enough precluded the ideas of the Great French Revolution and was even its root. He defended in his Rights of Man the radical idea that human rights are inalienable and that a sovereign has no right to dictate the amount nor degree of their realization; realization stemming from the collective power of people’s government. Paine even goes on to refute Hereditary rule by stating, much like Marx would, that the State apparatus is created by human beings and can bend to their liking, and fit into the most efficient manner so far as the collective had the knowledge of how to do it. Paine argued that humankind began without security but to assure individual power, formed into governments for the sole purpose of preserving humanity and justice. The idealistic opinions of Paine, nonetheless grew into more concrete policy recommendations. He went as far as to recommend subsidized schooling for the nation’s poor, a guaranteed welfare standard, maternity leave for mothers and the burden of taxation be shifted onto the capable backs of America’s merchants and land owners.

Thomas Paine also was a man of virtue and a steadfast revolutionary and American patriot. With echoes of Comrade Mao’s infamous statement “It is right to rebel”, Paine asserts the natural reaction of alienation and detachment from civil rights and welfare by saying
It is possible to exclude men from the right of voting, but it impossible to exclude them from the right of rebelling against that exclusion; and when other rights are taken away, the right of rebellion is made perfect.

Paine throughout his life was an oppositional force. Even though Paine was an honorary French citizen and was presented symbolically with the Key to the prison Bastille; he served prison time in France for opposing the faction that executed the King of France and for denouncing the “reign of terror” on pacifist grounds. But even before that, in his early life, Paine began organizing a labor union in England and was eventually dismissed form his government position as tax collector for spreading and writing literature advocating better wages and conditions for his coworkers.

Thomas Paine is infamously called the Father of the American Revolution but he is peculiarly left out of the group of founders of the United States. The reason is obvious. In Thomas Paine’s day his radical ideas got overridden by the powerful bourgeois, moderate liberalism that dominated the politics of the early US period. His ideas were the very wind blowing into the forge of revolution, growing the fire and its violence and passion. He spoke the words the common American could not and this popular outcry against the King and his rich loyalists was convenient for the American Bourgeoisie who also allied against the King. But, as soon as Great Britain was driven from these colonies the interests of the rich took hold of the reins of government and established one in their own image. Paine’s ideas
were forgotten and the evils of slavery and patriarchy, the hegemony of the rich over the poor, the Anglos over the natives began, and this nation’s fathers stopped the momentum of the American revolution. Thomas Paine said fight till welfare and justice are won for every citizen regardless of race or gender. Until the Democratic ideal is realized in the lives of every person; when the Republic exists on peaceful terms internally and will work as a collective to prop up each other and progress the rights of humankind. Only till then can there be a proper government and only then will the revolution be finished.

Thomas Paine will leave us today with a reminder and insight into the nature of the State and what we know about governments. He said:

Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.

Engels said very much the same thing:

The state is nothing but an instrument of oppression of one class by another – no less so in a democratic republic than in a monarchy.

Once contradictions are resolved, and the antagonism and exploitation is abolished in the minds and the mechanisms of human kind, government will be relegated to the junkyard of history and Communism will be realized. The idealism of Thomas Paine still gives us hope as Americans and reminds us of the following:

That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.

It seems increasingly clear that a new government must be instituted and we evoke this sacred American document as its defense. Fight for a government that secures for each a job, an income, a home, insurance, food, water and all things essential to the flourishing of a just and dignified society. For Socialism and the finalization of the Democratic-American revolution!