“World’s Oldest Democracy”: The Myth & The Reality

Part 1

In recent years, the U.S. leadership has been consistently portraying the United States as the “world’s oldest democracy” on the premise that the form of “democracy” that was established soon after attaining independence from Britain way back in 1776 was supposedly consistent with the present United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, this claim masks several uncomfortable truths: that suffrage for a long period was restricted to rich White men; that slavery was a legal institution in the U.S. until 1865; that elections held between 1876 and 1965, particularly in the South, were largely governed by racist “Jim Crow Laws”; and that women gained the right to vote only in 1920. That apartheid was legally practiced in the U.S. until 1964 also remains largely hidden. The fact is that universal franchise became a possibility in the U.S. essentially after the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which is “a critical step in dismantling the multiple impediments to voting that had been erected between 1850s and World War I”, took effect as late as 1995.

Contrary to popular beliefs, the landed-gentry and the bourgeoisie, who led the independence struggle and drafted the U.S. Constitution, did not gift freedom and democratic rights to others. Even the poor White men had to wage a determined struggle between 1790 and 1856 to slowly attain those rights. (However, again from 1871 till 1964, voting rights of these poor Whites were restricted in several states through imposition of “Poll Tax” until the Twenty-Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution finally prohibited such taxes.) The rest of the population of the U.S. – especially African-Americans, women and post-1867 immigrants – wrested those rights through hard fought anti-slavery (abolitionist) movement, the suffragette movement, the working-class movement and the civil rights movement.

In short, since it’s founding in 1776, it has taken well over 200 years of bitter struggle for the people in the U.S. as a whole to get an opportunity to exercise their democratic rights. And, when it did appear that they would begin to do so, the enactment of the PATRIOT Act following the 9/11 attack (and a series of similar draconian laws that followed), ensured that such high hopes of unfettered and universal exercise of democratic rights would continue to remain a distant dream! In fact, there was increasing concern that the U.S. was fast turning into a police state. Moreover, far from being the “world’s oldest”, universal franchise has still not been instituted de jure in the U.S., i.e., till date, the right of suffrage is not guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, whereas in India, for example, Article 326 of the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to all adult citizens. Although by 1995, the voter registration process was simplified and potentially all adult citizens could register to vote, the electoral process in the U.S. is still overshadowed by the role of money power and a highly partisan and corporate controlled media that primarily projects the interests of the wealthy class.

The U.S. establishment’s self-congratulatory campaign conceals several other uncomfortable truths as well: that the “world’s oldest democracy” had no qualms about perpetuating its self interest through imperialist conquests; by supporting despotic regimes or by overthrowing democratically elected governments! That the “world’s oldest democracy”, which can afford to spend 3 trillion dollars to teach 28 million Iraqis the rudiments of “democracy”, has little concern for the basic democratic rights of 45 million poverty-stricken U.S. citizens! That the top 20 per cent U.S. households own nearly 85 per cent of the total privately held wealth! That even in 2008 just 12.4 per cent of the workforce in the “world’s oldest democracy” could join unions and exercise their democratic rights at their work place; the union membership remaining at the same level as it existed a century ago! That 40 to 60 per cent of the eligible voters never participate in the electoral process! These staggering facts are pointers to the real nature of “democracy” that is prevalent in the U.S. today. It, thus, brings forth the question as to whose interests was the U.S. Constitution actually designed to serve.

A Notable Incident

On 03 March 2006, during a public address to the people of India, President George W. Bush began his speech at the Purana Qila (Old Fort) in New Delhi by saying that he was “honored to bring the good wishes and the respect of the world’s oldest democracy to the world’s largest democracy.”1 President Bush tried his best to use the occasion to rave about the vibrant traditions of “freedom” and “democracy” in the U.S. (and in “our two great democracies”) in order to impress Indians about what is often passed off as the 200-plus-year old “American Creed.”2

During President Bush’s visit, a few Indians also had the misfortune of learning the true essence of “freedom,” about which Mr. Bush was waxing eloquent, through a small incident that took place on 02 March. It so happened that the U.S. First Lady, Laura Bush, who had accompanied her husband to India, chose to pay a visit to Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity orphanage situated near a South Delhi residential colony in order to shower compassion on orphaned children. Using the opportunity to register indignation at the dismal plight of children in Iraq, one of the residents of the colony, Bela Malik, and her friends hung a banner at her residence that read “Laura Bush, How About A Photo-Op With the Orphaned, Maimed, Dead Children of Iraq.”

According to The Hindu (which apparently was the only newspaper that chose not to ignore the incident), well before Laura Bush’s motorcade arrived there, the neighbourhood was virtually taken over by U.S. secret service agents, sniffer dogs and Delhi Police personnel. The report stated that, Bela Malik had noticed that the Delhi Police were taking orders from the U.S. personnel and that the local residents were not being allowed to leave their homes. Soon, on the pretext of a routine security check, an Inspector from the Delhi Police along with a sub-inspector entered Bela Malik’s residence, where a constable had already been stationed on the balcony. Quoting Bela Malik, the report said: “The inspector asked me not to shout any slogans. We assured him that we did not want to shout any slogans or hamper Ms. Bush’s visit in any way. We just wanted our banner to be displayed.”3

Despite Bela Malik’s assurance, the Inspector ordered the constable and the sub-inspector to remove the banner. Outraged by the highhanded behavior of the security personnel, Bela Malik told The Hindu:

“We objected and said that this was a violation of individual rights because the banner was within my premises. But they confiscated the banner. When we objected, they began questioning the occupants in a threatening manner.” She further added: “In our own country, in my own residence, I am denied the right to speak the truth in a peaceful, non-aggressive manner. A white banner was security threat to the Bush establishment!”3

Thankfully, the Delhi Police did not go to the extent of slapping criminal charges on Bela Malik on some pretext. One wonders if this type of jittery reaction from the security personnel is any different from the way in which despotic regimes reportedly behave!

This incident cannot be dismissed merely as an act of over-zealousness on the part of the Delhi Police in a bid to please the U.S. establishment since it happened under the very directions of the U.S. security personnel. In the name of security concerns, muzzling of anti U.S.-establishment protest actions are not perceived as attacks on democratic rights! However, the same U.S.-establishment has been making tall claims about its commitment to promoting freedom of speech and expression! Just three months earlier, on 09 December 2005, in a proclamation issued during the Human Rights Week, President Bush had proudly stated:

“We are promoting democracies that respect freedom of speech …and freedom of the press …We are standing with dissidents and exiles against oppressive regimes and tyranny…. As we observe Human Rights Day, Bill of Rights Day, and Human Rights Week, we renew our commitment to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law and where all people can enjoy freedom and dignity.”4

Contrary to the said laudatory precepts, Bela Malik and her friends had the bitter experience of knowing exactly how dedicated the U.S. Administration was in promoting freedom of speech and just how tolerant it was of dissent!

Hollow Claim

Even earlier, on 20 January 2005, during his Inaugural Speech at the time of assuming office for the second time, President George Bush had reiterated that human rights

are secured by free dissent and the participation of the governed. In the long run, there is no justice without freedom, and there can be no human rights without human liberty…. When you stand for your liberty, we will stand with you…. America, in this young century, proclaims liberty throughout all the world, and to all the inhabitants thereof.George W. Bush, “Second Inaugural Address,” delivered 20 January 2005.

The words “freedom” and “democracy” appear incessantly – at least thirty to forty times – in each of President Bush’s major speeches, including his speech in Delhi. At the same time, one cannot help noticing that almost every speech of President Bush was replete with disparaging remarks about the lack of “freedom” and “democracy” in nations, which he considered were not part of the pro-U.S. camp. In the light of the above-mentioned gagging incident at Delhi, the hollowness of the U.S. establishment’s claim of being the flag-bearer of “freedom” and “democracy” in the world, thereby, stands completely exposed. In fact, after the enactment of the PATRIOT Act in 2001, and through similar laws that were enacted subsequently to curtail civil rights within the U.S., there was no way that the U.S. establishment could even pretend that it was the guardian of such lofty ideals! However, these retrograde steps have not prevented the U.S. establishment from indulging in doublespeak.

The myth that the U.S. is the “world’s oldest democracy” was reiterated yet again recently by the U.S. Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, at the time of signing the Indo-US Nuclear Deal in Washington, DC, on 10 October 2008.5 However, the grave irony is that it was a person of Ms. Rice’s background, who has had first-hand experience of the ground realities that legally prevailed in the United States as late as 1995, who has repeated this tall claim. The truth was, in her childhood, Ms. Rice has had the ignominy of suffering the worst aspects of the apartheid system that was prevalent in her home town of Birmingham in Alabama, which was one of the notorious Southern states of the United States infamous for its racist prejudices. According to a news report: “A childhood friend [of Ms. Rice], 11-year-old Denise McNair, was one of the four young girls killed in the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in 1963 [by a racist group].”6

Despite this personal tragedy, Ms. Rice never chose to get involved with the civil rights movement at any time although she had enough political acumen to subsequently become the U.S. Secretary of State. The same Ms. Rice, who has been totally indifferent to the racially discriminatory social conditions in her neighborhood, now unabashedly claims that the U.S. was the “world’s oldest democracy”! President Bush repeated this claim again on 29 November 2008 in the context of the terrorist attack on Mumbai when he stated that: “And as the people of the world’s largest democracy recover from these attacks, they can count on the world’s oldest democracy to stand by their side.”7

It is in this background that an attempt is being made here to examine, with the aid of historical records, the veracity of Mr. Bush’s and Ms. Rice’s claims. Unfortunately for them and their ilk, the history of USA is rather well documented and the records are carefully conserved in numerous archives and libraries; several scholars have also carried out painstaking research and have placed a lot of that material in this regard in the public domain including on the Internet as well.

Apparently, even Senator Barak Obama, in the midst of his campaign for presidential nomination, made the politically correct statement that: “The world’s oldest democracy [USA] and the world’s largest democracy [India] are natural partners, sharing important interests and fundamental democratic values.” Senator Obama stated this in an article that he wrote for India Abroad (a magazine published in North America) on 29 February 2008. Senator Obama, a mulatto born in 1961, had spent his childhood in Hawaii and Java and had grown up in the White household of his maternal grandparents in Hawaii. Yet, from 1971 onward he did experience racial prejudices and understood what it meant to be an African-American. After his graduation, he chose to become a civil-rights activist and, therefore, is seemingly well versed in U.S. history, especially about the civil-rights movement. Under the circumstances, Senator Obama’s claim that the U.S. is the “world’s oldest democracy” does not gel with the realities on the ground as is described below. (The state of the “world’s largest democracy” will be discussed separately.)

Early Phase of “Democracy” in the U.S.

The history of USA is not that old since immigrants from Europe had founded it only in 1776. These immigrants had started settling along the east coast of North America from the beginning of the 17th century after forcibly driving away its earlier inhabitants – the Native American-Indians – further west. The original country consisted of thirteen former British colonies, which was bound on the north by the then British Canada, on the south by the then Spanish Florida, on the west by the Appalachian Mountains, and on the east by the Atlantic Ocean and covered an area that was less than six per cent of what it is today.

By the latter half of the eighteenth century, the economic structure of the British colonies in North America was composed of slave and free labour, of pre-capitalist and capitalist forms and forces of production, which was largely controlled by the landed gentry and the emerging bourgeoisie. In 1764, in an attempt to offset Britain’s war debt brought on by its war against the French and American-Indians and to help pay for the expenses of running its newly acquired territories, Britain began to levy additional taxes on its American subjects and increase duties on British goods imported to America. Britain’s decision to raise additional revenue by such methods was highly resented by the colonists, who found it an opportune movement to oppose British domination. Thus began the successful decade-long movement for independence. The Declaration of Independence on 04 July 1776 was followed by the adoption of the U.S. Constitution on 17 September 1787, and the ratification of the Bill of Rights on 15 December 1791. These steps supposedly signalled the establishment of freedom and democracy in USA. If that was so, the terms “freedom” and “democracy” had totally different connotations then than what they have assumed at present because at that time only a tiny minority of its then 2.5 million population directly benefited from such laudatory precepts.

The Declaration of Independence had proclaimed that: “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Indeed, all men and women are created equal! However, the astonishing fact, which has gone largely unnoticed, was that for over 200 years after the U.S. Constitution was adopted neither were all men nor all women ever treated as equals in the United States. As far as Native American-Indians and African-Americans were concerned, throughout this period the bulk of them had a hard time trying to ensure their very survival and to fend off threats to their personal safety. Under constant life-threatening situations, the question of exercising “unalienable Rights” such as “Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” had remained a rather far-fetched dream for most of them. The utter incongruousness between laudatory precepts on which the United States was founded and actual practice since it’s founding is what is sought to be unravelled in this essay.

It is apparent that most of the Founding Fathers of the U.S. “democratic” system were more anxious about safeguarding the interests of the big landowners (the Patroons, the Manor lords) and the bourgeoisie and less bothered about addressing the concerns of the vast majority of the people within the United States then. In the initial period following independence, a mixture of property and residency requirements had drastically restricted suffrage rights. When the first presidential election was held in 1789, the electorate that elected George Washington as President were mostly landlords or bourgeoisie, who were exclusively White males. (Reportedly, only about 38,818 adult White males voted in the 1789 election, which apparently constituted about 1.6 percent of the then total adult population of those states casting electoral votes.8 ) Between 1790 and 1856, these restrictions were slowly relaxed, and the electorate expanded to include nearly all the long-residing adult White males. However, it was only after poor sections of adult White males launched agitations that they managed to secure their voting rights. In addition, these restrictions were relaxed not because of altruistic motives; it was more out of compulsion and for safeguarding the self-interest of the elites.

According to U.S. historian, Alexander Keysser:

Between 1790 and 1835, from Southeast to Michigan, voteless [White] men petitioned legislatures and constitutional conventions to broaden suffrage requirements. Maryland’s early decision to drop property qualifications was hastened by years of agitation by propertyless residents (including many “mechanics”) of politically dominant Baltimore; in the 1840s, men who could not meet North Carolina’s sensational freehold requirements held mass meeting to demand the right to vote in all elections, while German and Irish aliens petitioned for their own enfranchisement in Milwaukee.9)

Ultimately, pure self-interest was a major factor. With the growing threat of slave rebellion, under the guise of White solidarity, enfranchising all White Southerners was a safe way of ensuring that the poor Whites would serve in the militia to protect the slave owners. Economic interest also played a role in expansion of franchise. As newly acquired territories began to organize themselves into States, inhabitants of those sparsely populated regions opted for White adult franchise in order to attract new settlers, a move that would potentially raise land value, encourage economic development and increase tax revenues. Male immigrants from Europe, who came in large number, were enfranchised in this process (until their suffrage right was again restricted through the introduction of the “poll tax” in 1871.) However, according to Keyssar:

…to the extent to which the working class was indeed enfranchised during the antebellum era [pre-Civil War period] (and one should not ignore that women, free blacks, and recent immigrants constituted a large portion of the working class), such enfranchisement was largely an unintended consequence of the changes in the suffrage laws. The Constitutional conventions that removed property and even taxpaying requirements did not deliberately intend to enfranchise the hundreds of thousands of factory operatives, day laborers, and unskilled workers who became such a prominent and disturbing feature of the economic landscape by the mid-1850s…. Indeed, the broadening of franchise in antebellum America transpired before the industrial revolution had proceeded very far and before its social consequences were clearly or widely visible.10

Women, American-Indians, African-Americans, Hispanics and those of Asian origin continued to be denied the right of franchise.

Pre-eminence of Slavery

Another notable feature was that the Founding Fathers were totally indifferent to the fate of the slaves, who were imported from Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries (and early 19th century as well) and who constituted 19 per cent of the total settler population of about 4 million at the time of the first U.S. census in 1790. In the prevailing “democratic spirit” of the times, slavery was legally permitted in the “world’s oldest democracy” under various provisions of the U.S. Constitution, clearly demonstrating the extent of influence wielded by the slave-owners in framing that Constitution. However, it is interesting to note that the Founding Fathers were too embarrassed to use the word “slave” or “slavery” in their debates or in the Constitution itself. Instead, they opted to use euphemisms such as “other persons” and “persons held to service or labor”, which clearly revealed the duplicity of the Founding Fathers in this regard. Explicit reference to slavery was first incorporated into the U.S. Constitution only on 06 December 1865 through the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery.

The initial convoluted reference to slavery appeared in the 1787 U.S. Constitution in Article I, Section 2, Paragraph iii, which afforded states seats in the House of Representatives according to population, with each slave being counted as “three-fifths of a person.” Not only did this arrangement allow slavery to continue, but it also meant that slaveholders would have disproportionate influence. While the slaves themselves were denied all democratic rights, effectively one slave-owner who owned 100 slaves enjoyed the same degree of representation in the U.S. Congress as 60 non-slave-owning citizens did. Since most of the slaves were confined to the big plantations in the South, the Southern states wielded far more clout in the decision-making process than the Northern states despite the majority of the U.S. citizens then – bulk of whom were non-slave-holders – being residents of the North.

The next allusion to the institution of slavery was in Article I, Section 9, Paragraph I, which stipulated that:

The Migration and Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

This clause prohibited the U.S. Congress from banning the import of slaves into USA before the year 1808 with the proviso that even if a tax or duty is imposed on such importation, it should not exceed ten dollars for each slave. Thus, not only did the U.S. Constitution completely protect slave trade, it also explicitly barred the U.S. Congress from attempting to substantially raise the import duty on slaves as a way of discouraging and ending the slave trade before the year 1808.11

The last indirect reference to slavery is found in the 1787 U.S. Constitution in Article IV, Section 2, Paragraph iii. This was essentially the “fugitive-slave” clause that ordained that:

No Person held to Service or Labor in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labor, but shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom Service or Labor may be due.

That is to say, even if a slave escapes to a free state with laws prohibiting slavery, he/she still must be returned to his/her rightful owner to whom he/she owes his/her services in the slave state. He/she was still a slave no matter where he/she was, as long as he/she belonged to his/her master. It is very much obvious that specific clauses for protection of slavery were ingrained into the original U.S. Constitution without ever using the words “slave” or “slavery”!

Vermont, which broke away from New York to form a separate state in 1777, became the first State in the U.S. to constitutionally abolish the institution of slavery within its borders, with the State of Pennsylvania soon following its lead in 1780. (The only state to abolish slavery before independence was Rhode Island in 1774.) Although all other Northern states took similar steps by 1804, the gradual emancipation laws prolonged the actual process of abolition of slavery even in most of the Northern states well into the 1850s.

Unmindful of the developments in the Northern states, the U.S. Congress decided to toughen the disguised “fugitive slave” clause in the original U.S. Constitution. On 12 February 1793, it adopted the Fugitive Slave Act, 1793 that not only made it a federal offence to assist an escaping slave but also created a legal mechanism by which escaped slaves could be seized and returned to their masters. Under the Act every escaped slave was made a fugitive-for-life, liable to recapture at any time anywhere within the territory of the United States. Soon slave-catching developed into an organised industry in the “world’s oldest democracy” with hardly any mechanism even to restrain unscrupulous slave-catchers from unlawfully seizing free Blacks and selling them into slavery. The terrifying impact that the Act had on the daily lives of the African-American population all over the United States may well be imagined.

Fifty-seven years later, the pro-slavery laws in the “world’s oldest democracy” was further reinforced when the Fugitive Slave Act, 1850 was adopted by the U.S. Congress on 18 September 1850 to make any law-enforcement official who fails to execute an arrest warrant issued for the arrest of an alleged runaway slave liable to a fine of $1,000. Officials everywhere in the United States were now duty-bound to arrest anyone suspected of being a runaway slave on the basis of nothing more than a claimant’s sworn testimony of ownership. The person suspected of being a fugitive slave was left with no means of self-defence, since Section 6 of the Act had clearly stated that: “In no trial or hearing under this act shall the testimony of such alleged fugitive be admitted in evidence.” In addition, any person – whether Black or White – aiding a runaway slave by providing food or shelter was to be subjected to six months’ imprisonment and a $1,000 fine. On the other hand, officers capturing a fugitive slave were entitled to monetary benefits in the form of a fee for their work. Ultimately, the sheer brutality with which the despicable witch-hunt was conducted all over USA impelled the abolitionists to redouble their quest for speedy abolition of slavery.

Impact of Slave Revolts

Although for a long time, the potential threat from slave insurrections were underplayed and given little attention, fear of insurrection was ultimately an important motivating factor behind the opposition to slavery. According to U.S. historian Herbert Aptheker’s study titled American Negro Slave Revolts (1943), there were at least 250 recorded cases of slave revolts in the U.S. Notable slave insurrections such as the ones led by Gabriel Prosser in Virginia (1800), Denmark Vesey in South Carolina (1822), and by Nat Turner in Virginia (1831) instilled fear into the slave-owners, who tried to tackle the problem by intensifying repressive measures. In addition, the freedoms of all “free” Black people in the Southern states were not only severely curtailed but also an official policy was instituted that forbade questioning the slave system on the grounds that any discussion might encourage similar slave revolts. Since Turner was literate and had claimed he had got his inspiration from the Bible, all literate slaves were perceived as potential insurgents. Thus, the Nat Turner rebellion also became a convenient excuse for passing anti-literacy laws.

That growth of literacy among slaves posed a potent threat to the institution of slavery was exemplified by the writings of David Walker (1785-1830), who was born free, of a free mother and a slave father in North Carolina, one of the Southern states. He was fortunate enough to learn to read and write and to have had the opportunity of studying a variety of subjects. Around 1815, he left the South to settle in the Northern State of Massachusetts, where slavery had been effectively abolished in 1783. In 1829, Walker published a pamphlet titled “Walker’s Appeal”, which bitterly denounced the institution of slavery along with all those who profited by it and all those who tolerated it.

In the said “Appeal,” for instance, Walker made apt references to the Declaration of Independence to expose the hypocrisy of the U.S. establishment in defending the institution of slavery. He argued:

See your Declaration Americans!!! Do you understand your own language? Hear your languages, proclaimed to the world, [on] July 4th, 1776 — “We hold these truths to be self evident – that ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL!! that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness!!” — Compare your own language above, extracted from your Declaration of Independence, with your cruelties and murders inflicted by your cruel and unmerciful fathers and yourselves on our fathers and on us — men who have never given your fathers or you the least provocation!!!!!!”12

The slave-owners were dumbfounded by Walker’s many such simple and straightforward but devastating arguments. They responded in a typically authoritarian-fashion by imposing a ban on the spread of literacy among the Black population. The legislatures in the Southern states actually went to the extent of passing legislations that made it a crime to teach Blacks – whether free or slave – how to read and write! These legislatures also offered a reward for Walker’s capture, $10,000 alive and $1,000 dead. As a result, Walker, when he was only 45 years old, was found dead at his home in Boston on 28 June 1830, under mysterious circumstances. Yet, Walker and those like him had made their contribution to the revolutionary task of abolishing slavery, which was finally achieved by force of arms in the ensuing Civil War that broke out some 30 years later.

Anti-Literacy Laws

Before their legal emancipation in 1865, most African-Americans were denied basic human rights, including the right to education. Even as late as 1860, less than 05 per cent of the slave population, which grew from 700,000 in 1790 to 4 million in 1860, was literate. It may appear incredible that in the sixteen Southern states and in some other states such as California of the “world’s oldest democracy”, anti-literacy laws were enacted and strictly enforced well until 1865. All those who were guilty of defying these laws by daring to give instruction to Blacks or Mulattos (progenies of mixed African/European parentage) were severely punished with hefty fines and/or brutal whipping. For example, Article 6, Section 10 of the Laws of the State of Alabama in force in 1833 had unambiguously stated that:

Any person or persons who shall attempt to teach any free person of color, or slave, shall upon conviction thereof by indictment be fined in a sum not less than two hundred and fifty dollars, nor more than five hundred dollars.

Likewise, Article I, Section II of the Law of the State of Georgia, which was in force in 1848, had decreed that punishment for teaching slaves or free persons of color to read and write would be as follows:

If any slave, Negro, or free person of color, or any white person, shall teach any other slave, Negro, or free person of color, to read or write either written or printed characters, the said free person of color or slave shall be punished by fine and whipping, or fine or whipping, at the discretion of the court.

It was as though these abhorrent laws were taken straight out of the code of laws in Ancient India, the Manu Smriti or Manu’s Code of Laws, which included bigoted edicts that prohibited the acquisition of knowledge by the shudra (untouchable castes). Due to the anti-literacy laws and the intimidation and terror that ensued, there was a sharp decline in the literacy rate among slaves, which as per the census data fell from 15 per cent in 1830 to just 5 percent in 1860. By the 1850s, teachers from the Northern states, who were suspected of harbouring abolitionist views, were expelled from the Southern states and a ban was imposed on abolitionist literature there.

End of Part 1.

  1. Special Address by The Hon’ble President of the United States of America, March 3, 2006, New Delhi, India, FICCI. []
  2. According to ‘The Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,’ which is a section under the U.S. Department of State: “The values captured in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in other global and regional commitments are consistent with the values upon which the United States was founded centuries ago.” In addition, in his Independence Day Radio Address to the Nation on 05 July 2008, President Bush defined the concept of “American Creed” as follows: “Two hundred and thirty-two years ago, our Founding Fathers came together in Philadelphia to proclaim that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…. This creed of freedom and equality has lifted the lives of millions of Americans, whether citizens by birth or citizens by choice…. Today, that light shines as brightly as it did in 1776.” []
  3. Staff Reporter, “Jangpura bats for Iraq,” The Hindu. [] []
  4. Bush Proclaims December 10 Human Rights Day,” America.gov, 9 December 2005. []
  5. “Full text: Condoleezza Rice’s speech,” NDTV Correspondent, 11 October 2008. []
  6. Condoleezza Rice,” NNDB. []
  7. Deb Riechmann, “Bush pledges U.S. support to India,” Washington Post, 29 November 2008. []
  8. US President – National Vote []
  9. Alexander Keysser, The Right to Vote – The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, Basic Books, New York, 2000, p.35. (The book won the 2001 annual award instituted by the American History Association for the best book on the history of the United States. []
  10. Keyssar, pp.68-69. []
  11. As per the constitutional provisions, the U.S. Congress waited until 01 January 1808 before it imposed a formal ban on the importation of slaves into the U.S. One important contributory factor that led to the ban was the success of the 1791 slave revolt in the French colony of Haiti (then known as Saint-Domingue) and the declaration of independence by it on 01 January 1804. The developments in Haiti and its reverberations elsewhere in the Caribbean and in USA did induce fears of rebellion into the slave-owners, who became extremely weary of importing new “wild” slaves through the Caribbean. However, illegal importation of slaves into the U.S. went on for much longer. []
  12. Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829: Electronic Edition. Walker, David, 1785-1830. []

N.D. Jayaprakash is the Joint Secretary of the Delhi Science Forum & National Coordination Committee (NCC) Member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace (CNDP), India. He can be reached at: jaypdsf@gmail.com. Read other articles by N.D..

18 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. RH2 said on March 14th, 2009 at 1:48pm #

    An interesting summary of the history of Democracy in the U.S. I think the ideals of Democracy, the power of people to make decisions, enabling the governed to participate in decision making, are in principle difficult to realize. This can be through representation of the governed by parliament partly achieved. In Switzerland petitions for referendum on public issues in cantons (peoples’ decrees) have proven to be a good practice enabling people to participate in decisions. But this practice seems to be shaky recently, since there are some Swiss politicians who see it as outmoded.

    Substantially I find the American democracy more genuine than the nominal Indian democracy in the landscape of an ugly inhuman caste system and large different populations. The Americans are at least lingually homogenous.

    I assume the historical development of American democracy has contributed to the development, strengthening and continuance of Imperialism. Undoubtedly the U.S. constitution guarantees freedom of speech and allows protest. But with a long history of slavery and submissiveness I do not expect any significant rebellion against Imperialism from within. The slaves of yesterday are the voters of today.

  2. Michael Kenny said on March 14th, 2009 at 1:51pm #

    It is also worth mentioning that Catholics were often denied political rights in the early US, as was the required by law in GB until 1829. For example, the original NJ state constitution of 1776 barred Catholics from voting and holding public office. That ban was only removed in the second state constitution of 1844.

  3. Diane Stirling said on March 14th, 2009 at 4:01pm #

    This is a most powerful piece of work; I applaud you! In fact, I read it while listening to the play-list I created (music), and you can’t imagine how much more powerful it was with the music playing as I read through.

    If you want to read your piece with the sounds of peace and hope, try this link to my musical play-list.

    Again, I’d love to know what kind of music you might have had playing when you wrote this; if none, then you indeed have inspired thought about making this new beginning in 2009, one that not only includes hope, but tolerance and understanding.

    I can’t remember the last time I’ve read something that moved me so!

  4. RH2 said on March 14th, 2009 at 4:28pm #

    Diane,

    You are very serious. Your link to your musical play-list seems to have vanished with those thousands of Indians who democratically died of poverty behind the cage of their caste. Keep it on !

  5. Hue Longer said on March 14th, 2009 at 4:53pm #

    lol RH2,

    I get the feeling after clicking Diane’s name that she isn’t reading the articles much less the responses.

    Good article N.D.,

    The “right to vote” in the US hasn’t always been a victory. It was given to (or allowed to be wrested by) women so that the labor movement could be weakened by placating a large portion of it.

  6. sall said on March 15th, 2009 at 5:20am #

    Must see video just out The Obama Deception complete video:

    http://video.google.ca/videoplay?docid=7886780711843120756

  7. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 15th, 2009 at 7:47am #

    USA HAS BEEN A CAPITALIST-PLUTOCRATIC EMPIRE SINCE 1776, AND NOT A REPUBLICAN-DEMOCRACY AT ALL !!

  8. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 15th, 2009 at 7:51am #

    A REVOLUTIONARY SOCIALIST POLITICAL PARTY IS INDISPENSABLE IN THE U.S.A !!

    http://www.socialistviewpoint.org/may_01/may_01_4.html

    The capitalist system has produced its own kind of international oppression—imperialism—and in order to fight against it, workers have no choice but to organize internationally. The working class has no nationality. The human solidarity necessary to establish a just society on a socialist, collective basis can only be established on an international basis by a united world working class.

    Socialists condemn the intervention anywhere in the world by the military forces of the U.S. and other nations.

    Socialists support the right of oppressed nations to self-determination, free of imperialist intervention everywhere, including Colombia and other countries in Latin America, Central America, Africa, Iraq, Kosova, and all other Balkan nations.

    Socialists support the right of Cuba’s revolutionary socialist government and its people to be free of any U.S. boycotts, blockades and military aggression. Cuba’s defense of socialism provides a beacon of hope for all people fighting against capitalist social, economic and political injustice and struggling for racial, national and sexual equality.

    For a workers’ government and workers’ democracy

    The working class is the majority class. Its basic strategy, and that of its natural allies among the world’s exploited and oppressed, is diametrically counterposed to the capitalist strategy of divide and conquer. International working-class solidarity is essential for uniting the world’s exploited and oppressed in the struggle to advance its common interests.

    The capitalist class divides the workers, consciously using national oppression, sexism, racism, xenophobia, and discrimination based on every difference among human beings. In opposition to this, the socialist program consciously seeks to unite workers and their allies across all of these divisions.

    The socialist program is a program of workers’ self-reliance and self-activation. The working class needs its own political party just as much as it needs its own unions. Just as the boss cannot be relied on to dispense fairness and goodwill in the workplace, neither can the bosses’ political parties be expected to defend or advance workers’ interests in the government.

    The working class needs leadership that understands that workers and bosses have no common interests and that workers need to organize and struggle for their rights, wages, and benefits independently of the bosses and their political parties. The labor bureaucracy acts as an arm of the employers, seeking crumbs from the boss’s table and agreeing to defend the boss’s profits at all costs. Instead, labor needs a self-sacrificing leadership to fight for working people’s interests.

    The U.S. government is a capitalist government

    The government of the United States is a capitalist government, and all its actions—its taxation policies, its war and foreign policies, its foreign-aid programs, even its social-welfare programs—are all policies on behalf of the capitalist class, not the people. Reforms that have been achieved have never been the result of the capitalist politicians’ and parties’ good will. All have been the result of independent struggles by the working class and its allies. Such reforms included ending (some) child labor, the right of Black people and women to vote, civil rights, the right to form unions, and the right to free, public education.

    Workers Should Own and Control Industry

    Workers should own, control and manage all the basic industry of the country. These assets—energy-generating systems, mines, mills, factories, healthcare services, transportation, giant agribusiness farms, construction companies, etc.,.—should be taken from private ownership and profit-making and put to public use under the ownership and control of the working class. Then production could serve human needs instead of private profits.

    We need a workers’ government

    The socialist program advocates that the workers control the government of the country. The first priority of a workers’ government is to disarm the current military establishment, especially its nuclear arsenal, whose sole purpose is to protect capitalists’ property, and establish workers’ ownership and control of all public property.

    In a socialist planned economy the vast wealth and resources of the United States would immediately be put toward the social welfare of the world’s working people. The resources now hoarded by the capitalist class could, if liberated, feed, clothe and shelter all the world’s people.

    The resources now put toward the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex can be turned into vast public works for the advancement of science in the interest of human health (such as mobilizing science to cure cancer, heart disease, and AIDS), and saving the environment from the ravages wrought by the capitalist system for profit.

    The prerequisite for the protection of a healthy environment is a social revolution to end capitalist production and institute socialist production—a planned economy to serve human needs.

    The Obscenity of Poverty in the Midst of Plenty

    There is no logical reason for homelessness, hunger, illiteracy or poverty in the United States, or, in fact, anywhere in the world today. But there is another kind of logic at work in the creation of the gross inequalities in capitalist society: the logic of the capitalist system of production for profit.

    Humankind has already developed the ability, technology, and the know-how to solve all the problems of homelessness, poverty, and hunger!

    The only thing that prevents these solutions from being enacted is the system of production for profit instead of human need. The capitalist system threatens human advancement. It threatens the survival of the human species. It threatens the survival of the planet earth as a hospitable environment for the human species, as well as millions of animal and plant species.

    Once the capitalist system is abolished by the united actions of the working people of the world, once human society is organized around the principle of meeting human needs through human solidarity, there will be a granite-hard basis for the true flowering of humankind. Then, real human history, free of its fetters, can begin. That is our goal.

    A revolutionary socialist political party is indispensable

    But how to get to this goal? We believe that the historical record supports the view that in order to achieve a socialist revolution, a carefully thought-out political party is necessary. After all, the concept of socialist revolution is based on the organization of the majority, the working class, to take the reins of society into its own hands.

    That huge task requires the most conscious plan of action and politically conscious body of workers to carry it out. Only an organized political party that has absorbed the lessons of the historical experiences of the working class and its allies among the oppressed peoples of the world—and applied these historical lessons in its day-to-day activity—can hope to guide the process of a socialist revolution.

    Such a party cannot be built on the spot; it must be built ahead of time through a process of gathering and testing dedicated workers who understand the necessity of dedicating their lives to this cause. Such a party must promote the socialist program in the realm of ideas and in the class struggle. It must both educate and act.

    A revolutionary party must know how to act in a unified fashion against the capitalist class, and at the same time be thoroughly democratic in arriving at its positions on all questions. Democratic centralism is the organizational principle of the Socialist Workers Organization. This means unity in action and complete democracy within the organization.

    In capitalist society, the ruling class has the advantage of great wealth and control of all the main institutions in society, including the media with its ability to manufacture and manipulate public opinion. The workers have in their favor only the fact that they are the overwhelming majority of the population. That majority status becomes meaningful only insofar as it can be organized. It must be organized in great numbers, in mass actions, and at the point of production.

    The Socialist Workers Organization was formed when Socialist Action, the group from which we originated, ceased its commitment to function democratically. Democracy is not an idealistic concept, but a necessity for a revolutionary movement.

    Workers are a diverse and heterogeneous class on diifferent levels of consciousness. Their unity must be consciously cultivated and developed by the political party whose goal it is to put the working class in power.

    The only way such unity can be developed is by the dialectical process of the democratic resolution of differences within the party, and complete unity in action in the struggle.

    Unity in action is the only way that the working class can defeat the capitalist class. But unity in action must be tempered in the forge of ideological debate and struggle. Democracy is the means for resolving such and achieving a genuine socialist society.

  9. Max Shields said on March 15th, 2009 at 8:21am #

    T-C you are correct that the USA is less a democracy than an empire structured as a Republic. It has had one form or another of representational government which is not democracy, and the USA form of representational gov’t is less than optimal. A proportional representation would be “more” democratic in that it would represent people (most) who, today are not represented by the two party system and faux choices between these 2 parties.

    But democracy, one that is participatory is challenged by size. There has never been even the semblance of democracy in the history of humankind with populations over 100,000 (give or take).

    Democracy, to work, needs to be integral to daily life of it’s citizens. Handing over decisions to a representative abdicates democracy and the power of local communities. When reps are sent off, they are taken over by the powerbrokers and the “get along” policies of the Congressional tapastries.

    Size is important. Applying a given economics to a China or USA results in a massive distortion of a real economy (Russia/Soviet Union is another case in point).

    In a world which is global (that is a given) it must be understood that there are global issues and local issues/governance. There is tension between these. Do we need nation-states, or smaller regional entities with strong long control? How does the local and global reconcile the natural tension?

    These are, I think, the important question. Today, the system in place does not have the capacity to reflect on it and certainly no desire to act on it.

  10. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 15th, 2009 at 8:22am #

    Mexico has some good socialists that could be presidents: Subcomandante Marcos and Felipe Obrador, but mexican capitalist billionaires are trying to find pretexts in order to prevent a change of system, coz in a socialist system their wealth goes down to the mexican masses

  11. danE said on March 15th, 2009 at 2:11pm #

    Great Article! Congratulations to the author.

    Some additional “indepth” sources include writings by Herbert Aptheker on the American Revolution & other periods; by Eric Foner, esp. his “Reconstruction”; by Philip Foner; “Black Reconstruction” by WEB DuBois; also Chas & Mary Beard covered a great deal while tailoring it so than some of their books were used as textbooks during the New Deal era. The list goes on but I’ll stop here.

    Again, congratulations; your labor has produced sthg that should be of immense use to many “USians”.

  12. danE said on March 15th, 2009 at 2:39pm #

    Re topics raised by some commentators: it is obvious that the present capitalist-imperialist Ruling Class must be overthrown, absolutely disempowered. But to say it must be replaced by “socialism” is a meaningless proposition unless you can provide a detailed definition of what you mean and don’t mean by “socialism”.

    Obviously the Leninist (Stalinist/Trotskyist/Maoist) model has limited applicability. Seems to have worked out fairly well in Cuba, up to a point? but not so well in Kampuchea & various other places. The Social Democratic alternative is really just more Capitalism with a few judiciously strewn crumbs; the “Democratic Socialism” fashionable some some US circles means slicker packaging/marketing for the same Zio-Imperialist reality.
    Well, I’m digressing. The key pt about the “socialist solution”, and here I depart from Karl Marx (who remains the greatest thinker about social problems of all time) is that the idea that the Working Class can organize itself in such a way as to abolish exploitation of the many by the few is very problematic.
    The American “founding fathers” must be acknowledged has having devised a system which has worked pretty well for the classes which established it. I’d call it a work of genius pulled off by a “perpetrator class”.
    My view is that it will take an even greater work of collective genius to devise a system and accompanying ideology that will enable a class composed of a few billions of now victimized/exploited/oppressed people to democratically organize themselves in a way that will enable them to prevent the reemergence of class relations, of the domination of society by a small self-defined grouping or class.

    What good is de jure “public ownership” when de facto, everything is run by one priesthood or another, whether Islamic, Hindu, Mosaic, Christian, “Anarchist”, or “Marxist”?

  13. Tennessee-Chavizta said on March 15th, 2009 at 7:18pm #

    Max Shields: Venezuela is a real Participative Socialist Democracy. If you want go to this link and read its newest constitution. It talks about giving power to people, to powers, not only political power but also economic power, thru workers control, community councils and participation in government’s decissions:

    http://www.venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/2889

    Venezuela’s Constitutional Reform: An Article-by-Article Summary

    November 23rd 2007, by Gregory Wilpert – Venezuelanalysis.com
    The following is an article-by-article summary of the changes being proposed to Venezuela’s 1999 constitution. The summary is in no way official and should only be used as an aid in making sense of the proposed constitutional reform. The official reform text is quite long (31 pages), as it includes the full text of each to be changed article, even if only one sentence or word was changed in the article. Making out what, exactly, the changes are relative to the original 1999 constitution can thus be a sometimes time-consuming and difficult task.

    Venezuelans will vote on the reform on December 2nd and will do so in two blocks. Block “A” includes President Chavez’s original proposal, as amended by the National Assembly, which would change 33 articles out of the 350 articles in the constitution. Also included in block A are another 13 articles introduced by the National Assembly. Block “B” includes another 26 reform articles proposed by the National Assembly. Voters may vote “Yes” or “No” on each block.

    ——————————————————————————–

    Reform Question: “Are you in agreement with the approval of the constitutional reform project, passed by the National Assembly, with the participation of the people, and based in the initiative of President Hugo Chavez, with its respective titles, chapters, and transitional, derogative, and final dispositions, distributed in the following blocks?”

    [Articles in italics are those proposed by the National Assembly, non-italic articles were proposed by the President.]

    Block A

    Section II. Politico-Territorial Division of the Country: President may declare special military and development zones, citizens have a new “right to the city.”

    Art. 11 – Allows the President to decree special military regions for the defense of the nation. Also, it would allow him to name military authorities for these regions in a case of emergency.

    Art. 16 – Allows the president to decree, with permission from the National Assembly, communal cities, maritime regions, federal territories, federal municipalities, island districts, federal provinces, federal cities, and functional districts. Also the president may name and remove national government authorities for these territorial divisions (these do not, however, supplant the existing elected authorities in these regions).

    Art. 18 – Provides a new right, the right to the city, which says that all citizens have the right to equal access to the city’s services or benefits. Also names Caracas, the capital as the “Cradle of Simon Bolivar, the Liberator, and Queen of the Warairarepano” [an indigenous name for the mountain range surrounding Caracas].

    Section III. Citizen Rights and Duties: Voting age lowered to 16 years, gender parity in candidacies, creation of councils of popular power, social security fund for self-employed, reduction of workweek to 36 hours, recognition of Venezuelans of African descent, free university education, introduction of communal and social property.

    Art. 64 – Lowers the minimum voting age from 18 to 16 years.

    Art. 67 – Requires candidates for elected office to be set up in accordance with gender parity, reverses the prohibition against state financing of campaigns and parties, and prohibits foreign funding of political activity.

    Art. 70 – Establishes that councils of popular power (of communities, workers, students, farmers, fishers, youth, women, etc.) are one of the main means for citizen participation in the government.

    Art. 87 – Creates a social security fund for the self-employed, in order to guarantee them a pension, vacation pay, sick pay, etc.

    Art. 90 – Reduction of the workweek from 44 hours to 36.

    Art. 98 – Guarantees freedom for cultural creations, but without guaranteeing intellectual property.

    Art. 100 – Recognition of Venezuelans of African descent, as part of Venezuelan culture to protect and promote (in addition to indigenous and European culture).

    Art. 103 – Right to a free education expanded from high school to university.

    Art. 112 – The state will promote a diversified and independent economic model, in which the interests of the community prevail over individual interests and that guarantee the social and material needs of the people. The state is no longer obliged to promote private enterprise.

    Art. 113 – Monopolies are prohibited instead of merely being “not allowed.” The state has the right to “reserve” the exploitation of natural resources or provision of services that are considered by the constitution or by a separate law to be strategic to the nation. Concessions granted to private parties must provide adequate benefits to the public.

    Art. 115 – Introduces new forms of property, in addition to private property. The new forms are (1) public property, belonging to state bodies, (2) direct and indirect social property, belonging to the society in general, where indirect social property is administered by the state and direct is administered by particular communities, (3) collective property, which belongs to particular groups, (4) mixed property, which can be a combination of ownership of any of the previous five forms.

    Section IV. Functions of the State: Creation of popular power based in direct democracy, recognition of missions for alleviating urgent needs, foreign policy to pursue a pluri-polar world, devolution of central, state, and municipal functions to the popular power, guaranteed revenues for the popular power.

    Art. 136 – Creates the popular power, in addition to the municipal, state, and national powers. “The people are the depositories of sovereignty and exercise it directly via the popular power. This is not born of suffrage nor any election, but out of the condition of the human groups that are organized as the base of the population.” The popular power is organized via communal councils, workers’ councils, student councils, farmer councils, crafts councils, fisher councils, sports councils, youth councils, elderly councils, women’s councils, disables persons’ councils, and others indicated by law.

    Art. 141 – The public administration is organized into traditional bureaucracies and missions, which have an ad-hoc character and are designed to address urgent needs of the population.

    Art. 152 – Venezuela’s foreign policy is directed towards creating a pluri-polar world, free of hegemonies of any imperialist, colonial, or neo-colonial power.

    Art. 153 – Strengthening of the mandate to unify Latin America, so as to achieve what Simon Bolivar called, “A Nation of Republics.”

    Art. 156 – Specifies the powers of the national government, adding powers that are spelled out in earlier and in later articles in greater detail. New powers of the national government include the ordering of the territorial regime of states and municipalities, the creation and suspension of federal territories, the administration of branches of the national economy and their eventual transfer to social, collective, or mixed forms of property, and the promotion, organization, and registering of councils of the popular power.

    Art. 157 – The national assembly may attribute to the bodies of the popular power, in addition to those of the federal district, the states, and the municipalities, issues that are of national government competency, so as to promote a participatory and active democracy (instead of promoting decentralization, as was originally stated here).

    Art. 158 – The state will promote the active participation of the people, restoring power to the population (instead of decentralizing the state).

    Art. 167 – States’ incomes are increased from 20% to 25% of the national budget, where 5% is to be dedicated to the financing of each state’s communal councils.

    Art. 168 – Municipalities are obligated to include in their activities the participation of councils of popular power.

    Art. 184 – Decentralization of power, by its transfer from state and municipal level to the communal level, will include the participation of communities in the management of public enterprises. Also, communal councils are defined as the executive arm of direct democratic citizen assemblies, which elect and at any time may revoke the mandates of the communal council members.

    Art. 185 – The national government council is no longer presided over by the Vice-President, but by the President. Its members are the President, Vice-President(s), Ministers, and Governors. Participation of mayors and of civil society groups is optional now. Previously the federal governmental council (as it was called) was responsible for coordinating policies on all governmental levels. Now it is an advisory body for the formulation of the national development plan.

    Section V. Organization of the State: President may name secondary vice-presidents as needed, presidential term extended and limit on reelection removed, may re-organize internal politico-territorial boundaries, and promotes all military officers.

    Art. 225 – The president may designate the number of secondary vice-presidents he or she deems necessary. Previously there was only one Vice-President.

    Art. 230 – Presidential term is extended from six to seven years. The two consecutive term limit on presidential reelection is removed.

    Art. 236 – New presidential powers as specified in other sections of the reform are listed here, which include the ordering and management of the country’s internal political boundaries, the creation and suspension of federal territories, setting the number and naming of secondary vice-presidents (in addition to the first vice-president), promote all officers of the armed forces, and administrate international reserves in coordination with the Central Bank.

    Art. 251 – Adds detail to the functioning of the State Council, which advises the president on all matters.

    Art. 252 – Composition of the State Council changed to include the heads of each branch of government: executive, judiciary, legislature, citizen power, and electoral power. The president may include representatives of the popular power and others as needed. Previously the council included five representatives designated by the president, one by the National Assembly, one by the judiciary, and one by the state governors.

    Art. 272 – Removal of the requirement for the state to create an autonomous penitentiary system and places the entire system under the administration of a ministry instead of states and municipalities. Also, removes the option of privatizing the country’s penitentiary system.

    Section VI. Socio-Economic System: Weakening of the role of private enterprise in the economic system, possible better treatment of national businesses over foreign ones, no privatization any part of the national oil industry, taxation of idle agricultural land, removal of central bank autonomy.

    Art. 299 – The socio-economic regimen of the country is based on socialist (among other) principles. Instead of stipulating that the state promotes development with the help of private initiative, it is to do so with community, social, and personal initiative.

    Art. 300 – Rewording of how publicly owned enterprises should be created, to be regionalized and in favor of a “socialist economy”, instead of “decentralized.”

    Art. 301 – Removal of the requirement that foreign businesses receive the same treatment as national businesses, stating that national businesses may receive better treatment.

    Art. 302 – Strengthening of the state’s right to exploit the country’s mineral resources, especially all those related to oil and gas.

    Art. 303 – Removal of the permission to privatize subsidiaries of the country’s state oil industry that operate within the country.

    Art. 305 – If necessary, the state may take over agricultural production in order to guarantee alimentary security and sovereignty.

    Art. 307 – Strengthening of the prohibition against latifundios (large and idle landed estates) and creation of a tax on productive agricultural land that is idle. Landowners who engage in the ecological destruction of their land may be expropriated.

    Art. 318 – Removal of the Central Bank’s autonomy and foreign reserves to be administrated by the Central Bank together with the President.

    Art. 320 – The state must defend the economic and monetary stability of the country. Removal of statements on the bank’s autonomy.

    Art. 321 – Removal of the requirement to set up a macro-economic stabilization fund. Instead, every year the President and the Central Bank establish the level of reserves necessary for the national economy and all “excess reserves” are assigned to a special development and investment fund.

    Section VII. National Security: Armed forces to be anti-imperialist, reserves to become a militia.

    Art. 328 – Armed forces of Venezuela renamed to “Bolivarian Armed Force.” Specification that the military is “patriotic, popular, and anti-imperialist” at the service of the Venezuelan people and never at the service of an oligarchy or of a foreign imperial power, whose professionals are not activists in any political party (modified from the prohibition against all political activity by members of the military).

    Art. 329 – Addition of the term “Bolivarian” to each of the branches of the military and renaming of the reserves to “National Bolivarian Militia.”

    Section VIII. Constitutional changes: Signature requirements increased for citizen-initiated referenda to modify the constitution.

    Art. 341 – Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional amendments from 15% to 20% of registered voters.

    Art. 342 – Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional reforms from 15% to 25% of registered voters.

    Art. 348 – Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated constitutional assembly from 15% to 30% of registered voters.

    Block “B”

    Section III. Citizen Rights and Duties: Non-discrimination based on sexual orientation and health, increase in signature requirements for citizen-initiated referenda, primary home protected from expropriation.

    Art. 21 – Inclusion of prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and on health.

    Art. 71 – Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated consultative referenda from 10% to 20% of registered voters.

    Art. 72 – Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated recall referenda from 20% to 30% of registered voters. Also, voter participation set at minimum 40% (previously no minimum was set, other than that at least as many had to vote for the recall as originally voted for the elected official).

    Art. 73 – Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated approbatory referenda from 15% to 30% of registered voters.

    Art. 74 – Increase in the signature requirement for citizen-initiated rescinding referenda from 10% to 30% of registered voters. In the case of law decrees, increased from 5% to 30% of registered voters.

    Art. 82 – Protection of primary home from confiscation due to bankruptcy or other legal proceedings.

    Art. 109 – Equal voting rights for professors, students, and employees in the election of university authorities.

    Section IV. Functions of the State: State and local comptrollers appointed by national Comptroller General, political divisions determined on a national instead of state level.

    Art. 163 – State comptrollers are to be appointed by the national Comptroller General, not the states, following a process in which organizations of popular power nominate candidates.

    Art. 164 – State powers are specified in accordance with other articles of the reform. States can no longer organize the politico-territorial division of municipalities, but only coordinate these.

    Art. 173 – Political divisions within municipalities are to be determined by a national law, instead of being in the power of the municipalities. The creation of such divisions is to attend to community initiative, with the objective being the de-concentration of municipal administration.

    Art. 176 – The municipal comptroller is to be appointed by the national Comptroller General, not the municipalities, following the nomination of candidates by the organizations of popular power.

    Section V. State organization: Councils of popular power participate in the nomination of members of the judiciary, citizen, and electoral powers, procedures for removing members of these branches specified more explicitly.

    Art. 191 – National Assembly deputies who the president has called to serve in the executive may return to the National Assembly to finish their term in office once they stop working in the executive. Previously they lost their seat in the assembly.

    Art. 264 – Specifies that Supreme Court judges are to be named by a majority of the National Assembly, instead of being left to a law. Also, in addition to civil society groups related to the law profession, representatives of the popular power are to participate in the nomination process.

    Art. 265 – Supreme Court judges may be removed from office by a simple majority vote of the National Assembly, instead of a two-thirds majority and an accusation by the citizen power.

    Art. 266 – Adds the ability of the Supreme Court to rule on the merits of court proceedings against members of the National Electoral Council, in addition to its ability to do so in the case of all other high-level government officials.

    Art. 279 – Includes representatives of popular power councils for the nomination of Attorney General, Comptroller General, and Human Rights Defender. Also, specifies that each of these may be removed by a majority of the National Assembly, instead of leaving the issue to a separate law and a ruling from the Supreme Court.

    Art. 289 – Adds to the Comptroller General’s powers the ability to name state and municipal comptrollers.

    Art. 293 – Removes the National Electoral Council’s responsibility to preside over union elections.

    Art. 295 – Inclusion of representatives from the Popular Power in the nomination process of members to the National Electoral Council. Specifies that members may be chosen by a majority of National Assembly members, instead of a two-thirds majority. Election of electoral council members is supposed to be staggered now, where three are elected and then halfway through their 7-year term, the other two are to be elected.

    Art. 296 – Members of the National Electoral Council may be removed by a majority of National Assembly members, without the need of a prior ruling from the Supreme Court.

    Section VIII. Constitutional exceptions: Right to information no longer guaranteed during state of emergency, emergencies to last as long as the conditions that caused it.

    Art. 337 – Change in states of emergency, so that the right to information is no longer protected in such instances. Also, the right to due process is removed in favor of the right to defense, to no forced disappearance, to personal integrity, to be judged by one’s natural judges, and not to be condemned to over 30 years imprisonment.

    Art. 338 – States of alert, emergency, and of interior or exterior commotion are no longer limited to a maximum of 180 days, but are to last as long as conditions persist that motivated the state of exception.

    Art. 339 – The Supreme Court’s approval for states of exception is no longer necessary, only the approval of the National Assembly.

  14. Max Shields said on March 15th, 2009 at 8:26pm #

    T-C Venezuela’s 26.5 m is significant but rather small compared to the USA’s 300 m and land mass expanse. This is not to say the Venezuela has not achieved a “higher” level of public participation, nor that its constitution has not made advances in that direction.

    Democracy is a funny thing. It seems to me, many would prefer a benevolent dictator if they had their drothers. A democracy takes time and regular engagement. But it pays off in so many respects. In the USA people are lost in “making a living”, whatever that means – it’s a kind of oxymoron because it means letting go of living in order to pay for things that are primarily marketed as “needs” when they are barely “wants”. In debtness is the rule of the US economy. It is a phony economy which is showing itself like a heart attack that starts with little chest pains (think Savings and Loans fiasco, and then the Dot Com bubble and then Enron with all kinds of little hints with one shyster after another – Milken and now Madoff). This is Amerika; one big fat BUBBLE ready to explode. It contracts, and blows itself up again…and on and on it goes. And life just gets swallowed up. War after war after war. And no one pays attention…they stop remembering what it is not to be on the treadmill…like the heart attack…and then one day…its FATAL.

    But as to democracy, that takes time, work, caring, community, collaboration, children, and people of all ages to be engaged, and aware and questioning, critical thinking (and it doesn’t require a PhD or even a ABC after your name).

    The US economy will need to crash and burn before a re-think happens, a heart attack bad enough to get the collective attention, just short of fatal.

  15. Minna said on March 16th, 2009 at 1:55am #

    The last peace time execution in Finland took place in 1825.

    ‘The World’s Oldest Democracy’ is still practicing this Hammurabian relic of ‘justice’ in year 2009.

    “Capital punishment means
    that those without capital
    get the punishment.”

  16. danE said on March 16th, 2009 at 4:30pm #

    t-c, you are a likable fellow… but you’re a True Believer, a Convert.

    Words on paper are nice, but the reality is that Chavez’ power is first of all based on the Venezuelan Military Officer Corps. Of course I support the direction he’s been going, so far, but as Hegel said, sometimes things change.

    Have you ever perused the Constitution of the USSR? Lotta nice verbiage in that too:)

    Quiet as it’s kept, there still ain’t no Santa Claus. Don’t Believe Everything You Think:)

  17. sastry.m said on March 22nd, 2009 at 12:04am #

    Thanks to Shri.N.D Jayapraksh for the excellent article giving a lucid explanation of American Struggle for Independence and drawing up of the American Constitution based upon equality and liberty to enjoy life as human beings and guarantee rights of justice and freedom of expression and speech under the Institutions of Democracy. In spite of all imperfections and inconsistencies which are natural to the capabilities of human minds and hence to human beings the American People have,in general, reliably maintained a kind of social order of life based upon the requirements of founding and funding social economy of the U.S.A . Comparisons are only relativistic because they originate in human minds and convinced to their concepts and may effect the conduct of human life to destitution or admiration but cannot efface it altogether. Born as an Indian and Hindu I cannot eshew the purpose and objectivity of human life for the sake of positive or negative projections of human imaginations because the Scriptures say that the way you conceive and project with your mind that way you contract and beget ( Yad Bhavam tat Bhavati )! True to the name the Hindu maintained the objectivity of journalistic reporting the news of Bela Malik incident while others refrained from doing so. The mention of Manu Smriti regarding the caste system has drawn the attention of relativistic comparisons rather than the factors that contributed to its natural existence. And so are the inconsistencies and weaknesses drafted into the American Constitution in appreciation of the power and comforts of ephemeral wealth ( Preyas ) than the faith and Trust in God whose Glory of Creation implicitly guarantees freedom of all life in the Harmony of Democratic Natural Order ( Sreyas).

  18. Ming C said on March 25th, 2009 at 11:09am #

    America is a symbol of freedom; oldest democracy or not, America was founded on freedom. That ” all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And since this proclamation, we have fought for freedom here and elsewhere in the world. Why? Doesn’t everyone deserve the chance to live freely? Don’t they have the right to an education? Don’t children deserve to be raised freely? To practice any religion they believe? America’s wars in the world have always been back by freedom; freedom either for others or for protecting freedom in America. What if America had stayed out of WWII? What would the world be like today? How many people would have freedom? The rest of the wars, including Iraq, are just as justified as was WWII was. Protecting human rights, providing freedom for others. Currently in Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe is dictating civil unrest and committing crimes against humanity. People from all over the world are crying out for peace and demand Robert be brought to justice for the crimes he has and continues to commit. This is okay, it’s okay for people to cry out for peace, to cry out for help; but if a country were to go into Zimbabwe and take out Robert, people would be outraged. Why? They were demanding peace in the first place.
    Anyone can look at the negative things in America and make an arguments against it. It’s mostly been a learning process though, and no one can argue the good that America’s done in the world; what its accomplished since its foundation. I live in America, I live the freedoms everyday, and to say that people take advantage of it is wrong. You can’t single out a person or corporation and say this is America. The world had adopted the quote above from the Declaration of Independence, those who have not face civil unrest and governments under dictators and monarchies. And the people continue to cry out for freedom.