Toward a Marxist Interpretation of the US Constitution
Publisher: Jacobin Magazine
Date Written: 04/07/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX21118
According to Bertell Ollman, what is in danger of being lost among all the patriotic non-sequiturs is the underside of criticism and protest that had accompanied the Constitution from its very inception.
Taken at face value, the Constitution is an attempt to fix the relations between state and federal governments, and between the three branches - legislative, executive, and judiciary - of the latter. And most accounts of this document have concentrated on the mechanical arrangements that make this balancing act possible.
In the process, the Constitution's basic assumptions and particularly its social and economic purposes have been grossly neglected. It is a little like learning in some detail how a car works before even knowing what kind of machine it is, what it is supposed to do, and why it was constructed in just this way.
Learning the functioning of any system, whether mechanical or institutional, is not without value in determining its meaning and use, but we would do better to approach their symbiosis from the other side, to examine who needed what and how the specific structures created responded to these needs. What is really at stake in any political dispute, the real-life questions involved, and why different people take the positions they do, can never be adequately understood by focusing solely or even mainly on the legalistic forms in which the issues are presented and fought out.