Reflections on the #FlagBurningChallenge Three Years Later and the Relationship Between Defeating Fascism and Making Revolution.
Last week, Trump visited Narendra Modi in India, spoke in front of 100,000 Hindu supremacists, and visited Delhi amidst a pogrom which murdered 40 Muslims, injured hundreds more and burned down a mosque. The Indian police were overwhelmingly complicit, and the stage was set for that by the recent stripping of citizenship of potentially millions of Muslims across India. Upon Trump’s return he set up a “Denaturalization Section” within the Justice Department with a wide mandate. He’s been promising to do this since before he even took office, initially threatening to strip the citizenship of flagburners. When that happened in November of 2016, a few of us went viral making a scene about it. And we learned a lot, including about the delusions that the “opposition” was filling their heads with and the challenges that we would face in stopping this.
In light of this I’m publishing something that I should have published last April when Iwrote it. Here it is:
Reflections on the #FlagBurningChallenge two years later and the relationship between defeating fascism and making revolution.
Parvez Manzoor Khan is a Truck driver who has lived in Florida as a US citizen for the last 20 years, building a home and supporting his family. Because of a minor discrepancy in his citizenship paperwork, and because Mr. Khan is not from one of those “places like Norway” that Trump wants immigrants from, the Trump administration is aggressively pursuing denaturalization proceedings against him. They have already denaturalized 3 other South Asian men. The only thing that has set Khan apart is that he is fighting it.
According to Maryam Saleh writing in the Intercept, focusing on Mr. Khan’s case: “The Trump administration’s tactics bring the United States into an era of stripping citizenship not seen in at least five decades. In the early- to mid-1900s, the federal government pursued denaturalization for racist and political reasons, even targeting U.S.-born citizens.” Donald Trump has been threatening to strip people’s citizenship for “racist and political reasons” since before his inauguration, specifically tweeting as president-elect about stripping citizenship from flag burners. Those threats are what started the #FlagBurningChallenge that myself, a few folks from Revolution Clubs across the country, and a handful of others participated in on social media. The fallout from that experience wiped away any illusions I had that the broader self-proclaimed “left” could or would play a significantly positive role in defeating American fascism. And in light of the attacks on Mr. Khan and the consolidation of fascism over the last 2 years this is as good a time as any to reflect — in a constructive way — on how and why that is.
At 7:55am in November 29th, 2016, Trump tweeted “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag — if they do, there must be consequences — perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” By that night the first flag burning videos were posted and started to be shared. Like the #IceBucketChallenge or the #MannequinChallenge that was still going strong at that time, the #flagburningchallenge consisted of people posting videos to social media explaining what we were doing, doing the deed, and challenging others to take this up along with a very to-the-point hashtag. Unlike those others, this challenge could have really impacted the polarization in society at a critical juncture, and as quickly became clear, the more participation we had, the safer the participants would be. But that isn’t how it played out.
While our real target audience was the broad masses of people, I at least initially thought that people who I had known over the previous years and even as recently as the DNC just 4 months prior to burn flags or who had supported or promoted that would help get it started, especially considering many of these folks generally saw burning the imperialist rag as a rebellious, joyous or even glib act. But in reaching out to people and challenging them we were met with such ignorant and oblivious dismissiveness regarding the real fascist threat that Trump and Pence posed. We were told we needed to focus on bread and butter issues and organize around people’s immediate needs (and at that time, immigration wasn’t even broadly considered a major one of those as the republicans were supposedly coming to the negotiating table on immigration reform). And we were left out to dry as I was doxxed for burning an American flag, bringing thousands of death threats, including a significant number that included personal information like address, employment, etc. It was clear that even as many minimized what Trump represented, there was a conscious decision for many people to avoid this risk precisely because it mattered so much in that moment.
And we’ve continued to see much of the so-called left normalize fascism, at best taking on one aspect or another, often explicitly instead of (or even in opposition to) driving out the fascists in the White House over the course of the last 2+ years.
It’s not fundamentally about cowardice or incompetence. It’s that the worldviews and theories about the world that have wide currency amongst ‘progressives,’ liberals and the left in the United States are ultimately bullshit. The identity politics and intersectionalism keep people in their own lane and train people to avoid seeing the systems and deep contradictions at work, let alone what might be developing. The handwringing reformism keeps folks trying to appeal to the fascists’ social base (or even the fascists themselves) by not challenging their backward and reactionary ideas. We’ve seen widespread militant reformism of disruptive protests and occupations, direct action, vandalism and even calls for isolated violence, and assimilating the tactics and aesthetics of revolution all with the limited goals of passing city council resolutions or getting body cameras on cops or racial sensitivity training for major corporations. The Great Tautological Fallacy that America is a force for good in the world and therefore America couldn’t become a fascist state because America is a force for good in the world. The economism and pragmatism of constantly sacrificing the larger vision of a better world for illusory immediate gains, as opposed to having immediate and limited victories serve the larger struggle. Amongst oppressed peoples we’ve seen the righteous hatred for bourgeois democracy and the Democratic Party and politicians generally getting misdirected into becoming a cover for accomodation to fascism, saying that Trump is at least up front about what he’s trying to do — and all the while these same folks still seems to always either miss the point of what Trump is doing or even support what Trump is doing. The pseudo-scientific conspiracy theory bullshit keeps people looking for symbols of something “deeper” and maintains a worldview where everything happens because some shady characters want it to happen that way, where folks are more suspicious of people trying to actually change things than they are of those maintaining the status quo, and none of these wild theories ever have to do with any production relations or real-world power relations. The extraordinarily low bar for what passes as scientific analysis, or any kind of analysis leaves us in a situation where people don’t ask questions in the first place, don’t ask the questions that matter in the second place, and settle for non-answers in the third place: Where maybe Trump is a wannabe fascist but that couldn’t happen here, and we’re not even going to really investigate why we believe it couldn’t happen here. We saw all of this in 2016 and we’ve seen it only get worse since.
These mental shackles and the people who maintain them are largely responsible for the fact that the fascists have been able to maintain and vastly consolidate power. In a million ways they have lowered people’s sights and kept folks politically paralyzed, diverted their outrage, waiting for saviors, waiting for change to just happen, or locked into thinking that the system will get itself back on course, especially with a little nudge here and there. But the system is on course — it is functioning and adapting the way that it has developed to do. The question is whether we — humanity — will allow that to continue or whether we will break the emergency glass and set out on the alternate course. As BA put it: “…we have two choices: either, live with all this — and condemn future generations to the same, or worse, if they have a future at all — or, make revolution!”
Conversely to all this self-serving and self-reinforcing bullshit, the new synthesis of communism and the application of this theory to understand the major dynamics in the world today provided a deep and solid theoretical foundation to act even in those first days after the election. Works that were already available in 2016 like “The Coming Civil War and Repolarization for Revolution” and “Why We’re in the Situation We’re in Today… And What to Do About It: A Thoroughly Rotten System and the Need for Revolution” spelled out the dynamics at play in the rise of American Fascism over the course of the last few decades. And now with the works that have come out since 2016, the science, strategy and leadership are there for everyone, if those who see their importance are able to meaningfully connect them with people. This contrast between the mental shackles of the left and the mental liberation of the New Communism should clarify the positive relationship necessary between the solid core of a movement for communist revolution with a scientific vision for the emancipation of all humanity on the one hand and the struggle to defeat fascism through sustained non-violent mass protest on the other.
This experience has brought to life for me what BA has said about this relationship: “It is crucial to unite and mobilize people, from different perspectives, very broadly, around the demand that this regime must go, but it will be much more difficult to do this on the scale and with the determination that is required to meet this objective if there are not, at the same time, greater and greater numbers of people who have been brought forward around the understanding that it is necessary to put an end not only to this regime but to the system out of whose deep and defining contradictions this regime has arisen, a system which by its very nature has imposed, and will continue to impose, horrific and completely unnecessary suffering on the masses of humanity, until this system itself is abolished.
And the more that people are brought forward to be consciously, actively working for revolution, the growing strength and “moral authority” of this revolutionary force will in turn strengthen the resolve of growing numbers of people to drive out this fascist regime now in power, even as many will not be (and some will perhaps never be) won to revolution.
So, both to meet the immediate challenge of creating a political situation in which this regime will be removed from power — and in which the political initiative has been seized to a great degree by those who are determined to turn back the assault on humanity that is being carried out by this regime and to strive for a better world, however they understand that — and to advance toward the fundamental goal of revolution, it is vitally important that all those who have come to understand the need for revolution actively contribute to building the movement to drive out this regime, and do so from the perspective and in the overall framework of building for revolution.… [emphasis in original, paragraph breaks inserted]
How is it that we see through the bullshit? It’s through science — that’s what communist theory is. And how do we lead broader sections of people to stand and fight on the right side of history, including people who aren’t communists and who may never become communists? It’s through propagating that same science and through wielding it — taking action on that basis that inspires broader forces, organizing and leading mass mobilization working from our deepest understanding of what’s driving this and what it will take to stop this. And organizing and mobilizing people to fight to uproot the very system that gives rise to fascism — so that we don’t have to keep fighting these battles for generations to come — isn’t some off-to-the-side part of that.
The denaturalization of Parvez Manzoor Khan is a horrible crime and a test of what these fascists can get away with. It’s the kind of crime that people in the United States keep allowing and the kind of test that these same people keep failing. But we have the 3 tools necessary to change that — the people who have the potential to break out of their mental shackles, the broad sentiment that Trump and what he’s doing is no good, and the basic scientific understanding of how we got here and that it doesn’t have to be this way.