Workers' Voice mailing list
December 30, 2016
RE: Against the campaign to burn the flag
Tonight I went to a packed School Board meeting in Buffalo where arch-racist and Trump co-chair for his campaign in Western New York, Carl Paladino, was told to resign from the Board or face possible removal by higher state educational authorities. Comrades may already know the story of how Paladino recently spouted off in the local "ArtVoice" newspaper saying Barack Obama should die from mad cow disease after fucking a Hereford cow, how Michelle Obama is really a man or a gorilla back in Africa, and other KKK-type crap, and that he wanted to see a jihadist beheading of Valerie Jarret.
The meeting tonight followed an afternoon protest of about 300 people with placards comparing Paladino to the KKK and calling for his ouster. All sorts of groups were there. Students. Teachers Union. Gay rights. Black Lives Matter. Parents. I didn't note any particular party groups, but I may have missed them. Likewise the same groups in the evening meetings.
Because the evening meeting was so crowded, I didn't get in to the meeting but was forced to stand outside. But you could hear the cheering and applause every time Paladino's crimes were spoken to by the masses and by the majority of the board members who are pissed at Paladino themselves. Paladino is a bully to them, and they hate his guts evidently. On the other hand they seem to be tip-toeing around the legal measures they could wield against him because they could have rid themselves of him themselves rather then sending it on to a higher body to decide. Oh well, it might just be a wise legal move because the higher body has more resources to fight the lawyer-rich real estate mogul?
Some history. Paladino was the Republican candidate for New York governor in 2010. Like Trump, the establishment in the party thought him a joke but this Tea Party lunatic won the primary, only he was killed by Cuomo in the election. Back then Paladino was well-known too for his racist and sexist "jokes". Sound familiar?!
Mark Williams, Detroit Workers' Voice <>
Recently the left-wing writer and Special Forces combat veteran, William Hathaway, who is a friend of the Detroit Workers' Voice, sent us another article for publication on the DWV list. It was a call for burning the flag on inauguration day as a protest against the election of Trump. I originally rejected the article because I don't think we should be giving such a call, and I sent him an explanation of why. He wrote back enthusiastically that he thought my comments clarified the issue, he had given the call in anger without having thought it through, and he suggested that the call and the refutation be printed together because there would be other people who are interested in the issue. That was a good idea, and so the call to burn the flag and my refutation are included below.
-- Joseph Green <>
By William T. Hathaway (http://www.peacewriter.org/)
Let's welcome our new Commander in Chief by demonstrating how little he knows about the Constitution of the United States. Each incoming president is required on inauguration day to take the oath of office, affirming to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution." But Trump proved his ignorance of this document when he recently wrote, "Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag -- if they do, there must be consequences -- perhaps loss of citizenship or a year in jail!" The Supreme Court, however, thinks otherwise. It has twice ruled that burning the national flag is not a crime but a form of free speech protected by the First Amendment, a legal way to protest government policies.
Let's give Big T a lesson in the Constitution on January 20. We the people should exercise our rights by burning the flag during his swearing-in ceremony. We can counter his jingoistic nationalism with a display of true patriotism, affirming our love of a country which was founded on the principles of egalitarianism rather than elitism, of government by the people rather than by just the rich.
Trump's autocratic proclamations make it clear we're going to have to fight to maintain our rights. His appointments to key offices display the pro-rich, anti-worker character of his administration. Our already low wages and benefits are scheduled for further slashing, our already suffering environment for further abuse. The future of our country and planet depends on our willingness to defend both against this attack by rightwing demagogues.
A battle lies ahead. We need to recognize that and prepare for it, showing defiance and courage from the start. Beginnings set the tone and direction of the future. If we passively accept his assault, fear will rule us and our resolve will weaken, and he will respond with more aggression. But if we fight back, we'll discover our strength. Rebelling is invigorating, an authentic life rather than a lackey life. And we can win! In the final analysis we are stronger than they are and we love our country more. Now we have to show it. The first step towards making America great again is to dump Trump and the whole rapacious mentality he represents.
Hillary Clinton would not have been significantly better. As senator she co-sponsored a law to criminalize flag burning with a penalty of a year in prison, but it never came to a vote. Her differences with Trump, like those of Obama with Bush, are superficial rather than substantial. The advantage of Trump and Bush is that their crudeness makes it easier to mobilize resistance.
And resist we must. In the present situation burning the flag is not an act of destruction but of purification, burning out the greed and domination that have corrupted our country. Setting that lovely cloth in flames is symbolic of what the rich cabal that controls both political parties and the mainstream media have done to the values that inspired the first American revolution. A new revolution lies before us, one that will take as much struggle and sacrifice as the first. But it will also bring as much benefit to humanity.
Let's start it by burning the flag on inauguration day! Do it in groups or individually, in front of city hall or in your own backyard. Post the photos all over the internet. There's already a Facebook page devoted to the celebration, Inauguration Day Flag Burning EXTRAVAGANZA!!: https://m.facebook.com/events/1162913243829454
Sometimes a paradox is needed to express the truth: Show your love of our country by burning its flag. <>
Thank you for submitting this new article for circulation in the DWV list. You have a clear and powerful writing style, and I appreciate your sending us contributions to publish. But this time, I have to decline the use of the article. [It is included above, however.]
This article centers on the call to burn the flag on inauguration day. I don't think this is a proper call for us to make.
If many people burn the flag, it would show a radical mood. But in fact, it's not going to be a mass phenomenon, and it doesn't today help mobilize the mass struggle or develop organization. It doesn't deal with the issues facing the movement or holding back people from joining the movement.
Your previous article, "Fight back or go under" [http://www.communistvoice.org/DWV-161121.html], talked of a long struggle against capitalism and the need to organize and form militant independent organizations. In what struggles will the masses take up organization? What are the steps in this direction that should now be taken? The workers are being devastated economically; the fight against racism is a major issue; there is the environmental crisis; there is imperialism; and so on. Activists need to know how to help move people forward one step and then another in these struggles at a time when the mass of people are not ready to rise in revolution, not even those angry over Trump's election and anxious to resist in some way. Burning the flag as an appeal assumes that large masses are already in a radical and revolutionary mood, and will step up resistance if only they see such a defiant symbol of resistance. It just isn't so.
While I agree with the spirit in "Fight back or go under", I think there are some formulations that require more thought. You write movingly that nothing is going to change the harsh economic reality under capitalism. Now capitalism will never stop exploiting the masses. Moreover, as neoliberalism goes into crisis, it is devastating the conditions of the working class in most of the world. But if it was impossible for anyone to ever achieve any demand under capitalism, then what would people be struggling over for decades? It can't simply be over demanding revolution per se or the right to stage repeated burnings of the flag; no doubt you are mainly seeking to inspire them to fight over racism, exploitation, imperialism etc. But the formulations in your article don't give much theoretical ground for this. While I think most of the left would applaud formulations such as those in your article, I think they express one aspect -- that overall capitalism will be exploitative to the day its dies -- but don't deal with the twists and turns of capitalist policy, and so don't prepare people to deal with them.
I think that it doesn't provide orientation to the movement against Trump to direct it to burning the flag. It's a wrong estimation of the mood of the working masses as a whole, and it would direct anti-capitalist activists into a sideline activity. And it doesn't make any sense at all to make burning the flag the dividing line with reformists; it doesn't help the masses see through the reformist programs. For these reasons, I'm not carrying the article on the DWV list. I may perhaps be wrong in this note in connecting your appeal about the flag to the theoretical issue raised by your previous article. But for the sake of discussion about some problems in left-wing theory, I trust you will permit me to dwell further on the theoretical issue.
When the New Deal began in the 1930s, the CPUSA maintained its independence from FDR and the Democrats. Its activists displayed great heroism and sacrifice in the struggle to develop independent working class organization. It also presented the New Deal as a step towards fascism. It was accurate in telling the masses that the New Deal was not their salvation and that FDR promised much, but delivered little, but it was wrong in denying that the New Deal gave a certain relief to sections of the masses. This style of denunciation of the New Deal might seem very militant and revolutionary. But this position couldn't be maintained, because it conflicted with what was happening in the life of the masses. Then several years later in the 1930s, the CPUSA began step by step to trail after the Democratic Party and the labor bureaucrats. It now recognized that the New Deal did amount to a change in capitalist policy, but it prettified the New Deal, and the party lost its revolutionary soul and liquidated its independent politics. The article "The CPUSA and the unemployed movement of the 1930's" (http://www.communistvoice.org/WAS9002CPUSA-Unemployed.html) deals with what demands come up in struggle on one particular front, and how the CPUSA dealt with them, but also with the CPUSA's zigzag from presenting the New Deal as fascist to its capitulation to the New Deal. The CPUSA's over-extreme evaluation of the New Deal in the first couple of years was one of the theoretical bases of its eventual capitulation to bourgeois liberalism (although there were other reasons besides the problems in CPUSA's theory).
In order to carry out consistent mass struggle, in order to build a class struggle, a movement or a party has to be able to recognize the twists and turns of capitalist policy. One has to be able to maintain class independence both when the capitalists make some concessions, and in the period of struggle against extreme oppression. These twists and turns do affect the mass struggle, and what workers will do. It isn't that if the activists simply denounce every twist as a fraud, then the struggle will continue as if these twists of capitalist policy hadn't taken place.
This is also a problem in the environmental movement. For example, everyone is united against the climate deniers. And Trump's climate denialism is hated. But it is harder for them to deal with the Al Gores who campaign against global warming, but from a bourgeois point of view. The environmental left carries out many important and worthy actions against the polluters and environmental destroyers, but it mainly doesn't recognize that both the carbon tax and cap and trade are policies that are bound to fail. They think that if they just don't mention that the IMF and World Bank back these policies, they don't have to worry about why these neoliberal institutions are so heavily behind these measures. Yet some of these activists will at the same time say that capitalism can't do anything, and that we need system change, not climate change. Naomi Klein, for example, writes movingly about how capitalism is the problem, and yet backs the carbon tax. And she is one of the best authors, and her book This Changes Everything has a great deal of useful material.
The failure to consider the twists of capitalist policy is also seen in international events, where the main part of the left regards various reformist governments as socialist. If these governments bring -- or had brought at one time -- certain amelioration to mass poverty, or give comprehensive health care and education, it proves to certain sections of the left that these governments are socialist or semi-socialist, even if they don't allow the working class to have any independent voice, or even if they are brutal dictatorships.
So much for now.
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