Activism / History / Politics / Russia / songs

It’s my flag and I’ll wave it if I want to!


I’ve received some Facebook flak for flying the hammer-and-sickle here in my recent posting. The criticisms were kicked off by Gina Le Faux (a respected musician) who posted:

“I’m afraid I don’t like the flag. It briefly stood for something good but it’s now a symbol of a Fascist state that is governed by a dictatorship who oppress freedom of speech and are opposed to the freedom of it’s population.”

My response:

“I’m proud to acknowledge the flag under which the Red Army ripped the guts out of the Nazi armies, as Churchill put it. Crimes were committed in its name, but the same could be said of every symbol in history (eg the Cross during the Inquisition) but to call the USSR a fascist state slanders those who died in the fight against fascism. The union of workers and peasants represented by the hammer and sickle can never be outmoded. I may be a peacemaker but I am not a pacifist,which is why I celebrate the Soviet partisans, the ghetto fighters in Warsaw, the kids throwing stones at Israeli tanks etc. As the Chartist slogan put it: Peacefully if we may; violently if we must. A lutta continua! Amandla!

Perhaps the following writing is worth revisiting. It was composed when Yeltsin (a former member of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party) hauled the flag down and attempted (illegally) to ban the Party:

Our flag is the flag of the whole world

It suits today the weak and base
Whose minds are set on pelf and place
To cringe before the rich man’s frown
And haul the sacred emblem down.

Jim Connell, The Red Flag

Struggle - PravdaI wept when I saw the red flag coming down from above the Kremlin. But after I had wiped away the tears of self-pity, another emotion replaced my sorrow: a feeling of liberation.

My sadness was because it was my flag they were pulling down, a flag which should have marked a bastion of our struggle, and its replacement by the tricolour of a single nation was a victory of chauvinism over internationalism, of self-seeking careerism over the sacrifice of millions who had fallen to protect the peoples of the world from capitalism wearing its fascist jackboot with its iron heel.

The struggle was moving out of the elegant salons of the Kremlin and the round tables of super-power diplomacy, back on to the streets, with the daily fight for existence in the food queues and among the new unemployed and homeless who are the first victims of the return to capitalism in Russia.

This was no bad thing, for hard currency shops and sleek limousines and special privileges are not the environment for revolutionary action. And while high-placed apparatchiks and turncoats may in their different ways seek to consign the times of struggle to the past, they cannot legislate it out of existence. For as long as we work for eight hours and get paid for less, there is an imbalance in economics that cannot be hidden away, however much they may massage the statistics to prove that exploitation is prosperity, minus is plus, black is white.

And at least we are now free of the cant that held that the economics of greed were in some way a step forward in the building of socialism. The market is revealed for what it is, a jungle of dog-eat-dog, a casino economy in which millions starve while a fortunate few have more than they can know what to do with. How many of these new rouble billionaires were so recently honoured comrades, trusted with the panoplies of power, whose red masks have now slipped off to reveal the Judas faces which were always lurking there, beneath the revolutionary rhetoric!

Too many, and for that we who protected them from the wrath of the common sense of the common people, who explained away the indefensible, who ignored the promptings of healthy doubts in our own hearts, we must share the blame.

We thought that admitting our own failings would harm the revolution, but it was our dishonesty in ignoring what could not be concealed that destroyed it, and set back human progress by a century, back to the times when our children sell their bodies on our streets, and it is illegal for one factory to come out in solidarity with another.

And shall one group of us appropriate all rectitude, denying it to others who may say us nay, appropriating the very flag under which so many millions have died, from Chicago and Trafalgar Square to the jungles of Angola and Vietnam?

For as the flag came down from the Kremlin it came back into my possession, into the possession of all struggling peoples, where it rightly belongs. Yes, we honour our Russian brothers, those who died under this flag on the steps of the Winter Palace, as well as those who tore the guts out from the Wehrmacht in Stalingrad (never will its name be forgotten just because old and tired successors of those fighters would wish to deny the inspiration of the leader who gave the city of steel its name).

When they fought under that flag — our flag — they stood at our head, not merely liberating the cities of Russia, but also the miners in the Rhondda, the intellectuals on the left bank of Paris, the steel workers of Detroit, the campesinos of Chile and the textile workers in Beijing.

But you did not struggle alone. Where were the engineers of Birmingham, turning out tanks and planes to be marked for Uncle Joe, where were the sailors who drowned in the icy waters on the Murmansk conveys, getting the weapons through to you that you used at Stalingrad? Where were the Chindits sweating through the Burmese jungles? Where the kids of Cherbourg and their copains, who braved the night patrols to scrawl Victoire upon the dockyard walls? Where the prisoners in Buchenwald and Belsen, in the very belly of the fascist beast, who struggled naked and alone, defying the gas ovens and the crematoria to die singing that all are brothers and sisters, yes even the German workers in black SS suits who clubbed them to their deaths?

Why did you call it a Great Patriotic War, comrades, when it was so much more than that? And why did you take our flag from us and make it yours, so that we must march under the banner of another land, much as we love and respect you for what you have achieved?

Yours was a noble effort, to try against all odds to build an island of truth in a world of lies, a bridgehead of justice on ground won from the enemies of righteousness, an example to show that we do not need to knuckle under, however uneven the odds. Perhaps it was doomed, as Trotsky said, perhaps you needed capitalism to build up your industries as Kautsky said, undoubtedly you made many mistakes, for which you must now pay, for history is unforgiving, and there are no second chances for those who take the wrong road, though others can learn from such errors to take the right one.

But inasmuch as you did it under our flag, you showed us what could be done as grandly as what could not, and your defeat is the defeat of all people. You taught us an important lesson: that no victory is total, and that history can roll back to cause commissars to revert to moguls, as capitalists will take the slightest opportunity to be feudal lords, slave owners, or worse.

The successful revolutionary is like the alcoholic, required each morning to resolve anew not to drink that day, and the price of sobriety is eternal vigilance. And though no victory is assured, from many small triumphs is total victory built. But no defeat is total, either, for in winter’s cold the seeds are already quickening under the earth, and after the darkest day the light begins to grow again.

So now the flag you borrowed is lying in the dirt, and we must pick it up again, to wave it over the whole earth, to turn its barren, poisoned lands green again, a scarlet flower bleeding its promise into the soil.

It flies still in Cuba, as long as we do not stand idly by while Yankee blockades starve the people to submission. It flies in China, even if the sickness of privilege and cynicism blinds its rulers to the revolutionary aspirations of the students of Tiananmen Square. It flies in the hearts of the locked out miners of Yorkshire, as they watch the weeds growing over the wealth that the earth made theirs. It flies in Johannesburg, as revolutionaries sit down with their oppressors to plan a new way of ending apartheid. It flies in the ghettoes of USA, in the base communities of Latin America, in the remotnesses of the Philippines, in the jails of Iran and Iraq.

It was our flag, and then it became yours. And now it is ours again.

The flag of all the earth.

With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward ’til we fall.
Come dungeon dark or gallows grim
This song shall be our parting hymn.

Then raise the scarlet standard high:
Beneath its shade we’ll live or die.
Tho’ cowards shrink and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.


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