Revolution #47, May 21, 2006
Red Flag Vs. American Flag
Two Very Different Histories—Two Very Different Futures
The Red Flag of Proletarian Revolution
On every continent on Planet Earth, the Red Flag has come to represent the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat to liberate all of humanity. It first was carried by the slaves in Rome who rose in revolt and became the banner of revolution down through the ages.
The Paris Commune of 1871. For the first time in history, the working class rose up and seized power. And the Red Flag soared for the first time as a symbol of not just rebellion and revolution, but of a new proletarian state—a radically different kind of state, one to serve a transition to a society without classes and, eventually, without states. After 70 days, the Commune was crushed and the bourgeoisie took its revenge, killing tens of thousands. But a new point of departure for the future had been forged.
The Red Flag was carried into battle when the masses rose up in Russia in 1917. Led by V.I. Lenin and the Bolshevik Party, the proletariat overthrew the Tsarist Regime, established a new revolutionary government, and began building a new socialist society. Millions of people around the world looked with hope and pride at the unprecedented revolutionary changes that became possible under proletarian rule. Land to the tiller. Liberating new policies toward minority nationalities. The uprooting of women's oppression. And for the first time, a planned economy geared toward meeting the needs of the people. But the forces of the old order at that point proved too strong, and proletarian rule in the Soviet Union was overthrown in 1956.
In China, Mao Tsetung led the masses of people to make revolution and seize power in 1949. The Red Flag flew victorious over a new socialist society where the rule of profit and exploitation was ended and basic social needs were met. Social and economic divisions and inequalities were broken down and the masses of people in their millions participated in the struggle to transform society and themselves. The Red Flag flew still higher in 1966, with the beginning of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, a “revolution within the revolution” where Mao called on the masses to rise up and overthrow top party and government officials who were trying to bring capitalism back to China. The transformations in China went much further than the Soviet Union, and a whole new understanding was forged in the process—but here too imperialism was finally able to defeat the proletariat, and power was seized back by a coup from within the Party in 1976.
This first wave of proletarian revolutions, though defeated in the short term, shows the potential, necessity and material basis for the building of socialist societies as a transition to a new and liberating world free of classes and class oppression—a communist world. Both the wonderful achievements, as well as the shortcomings and weaknesses, provide us with rich lessons that can and must be learned, so as to take the Red Flag higher next time—a process which our Party, led by its Chairman, Bob Avakian, is actively contributing to and struggling for.
The Red Flag represents the fundamental interests of the masses of people. It is the flag of proletarian revolution and communism. Its history is rooted in the fight against exploitation and oppression. It represents the liberation of oppressed nations, as part of getting to a world without borders or nations, where both diversity and unity flourish among people. It is the flag that represents the historic mission of the proletarian class to liberate itself and all of humanity.
The American Flag
The American flag is a flag of empire. It has its roots in the enslavement of African people, the seizure of land from Mexico through war, and the systematic genocide of Native Americans. This flag has drawn its nourishment from the blood and bones of the uncounted millions who’ve been ground up in capital’s relentless and never-ending pursuit of profit, down through the centuries to today, within this land and over the seas.
This flag was raised in the invasion and conquering of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines and scores of other countries. This flag was painted on the only nuclear bombs ever used, which killed over 200,000 people in Japan. This flag presided over the killing of over two million people in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia with napalm, carpet bombing, death squads and village massacres. Under this flag the U.S. has carried out two wars on Iraq, invading and occupying, killing hundreds of thousands—and now threatens nuclear war against Iran.
This is the U.S. flag that holds thousands of people in Guantánamo and secret prisons throughout the world, proclaiming the right to torture and jail them forever. And this is the flag that flies over prisons that hold two million people, most of them Black and Latino, and mostly for the crime of being hungry, poor, and desperate.
The American flag takes as its history, present and future, the oppression of Black, Latino and other national minorities. A history and present that includes the oppression of immigrants forced to come to the U.S by the workings of capitalism and imperialism, to labor in the most backbreaking and dangerous jobs.
The American Flag today represents the U.S. nation at the top of a global system of exploitation and oppression—capitalism and imperialism. The American Flag is a concentrated expression and representation of a country that economically dominates and devastates people and vast areas of the environment all over the globe in search of profit.
The highest aspirations represented by the American Flag are to become an exploiter yourself, to get into the dog-eat-dog of selfishness, greed, and getting a piece of the spoils of global plunder. The American Flag serves to cohere national unity—either through unthinking patriotism and great-nation chauvinism, or belief in an illusory freedom that it never has delivered and never will. For even the rights and freedoms this system brags about—to the extent they are anything but total lies—are built on the blood and bones of those the system of U.S. imperialism murders and works to death here and around the world. Today, adding horror on horror, that flag is increasingly waved as the banner of theocracy and openly fascist dictatorship.
Flags represent what has been under their banner.
The Red Flag stands for proletarian revolution, breaking the chains of all oppression and exploitation, getting rid of class society and liberating all of humanity on the planet.
The Red, White and Blue Flag of the United States stands for exploitation, plunder, greed, and war; the destruction of the environment; the systematic denial of rights to national minorities; and the oppression of women.
Which one will you pick up?
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