Symbolism, ideology and revolution
By Gaither Stewart
Online Journal Contributing Writer
Feb 26, 2008, 00:44
ROME -- When Italian Communist leader Enrico Berlinguer
(1922-1984) spoke from the platform adorned in red banners raised on Piazza San
Giovanni in Rome, a forest of red flags bearing the hammer and sickle waved
over the great square in front of the Rome Cathedral, the traditional site of
Italian Communist rallies.
The entire event -- place, objects, music, chants, language
-- was emblematic of the aspirations of Italy�s working class. Whatever
Europe�s beloved Communist leader said was greeted with furious agitation of
flags, the left arm, clenched fist salute and from loudspeakers bursts of the
music of Bandiera Rossa (Red Flag). Italian Communist rallies are
festive affairs, celebrated according to trusted rituals and symbols and a
million voices singing the Internationale or Bandiera Rossa or Bella
You have to be totally insensitive to ritual not to feel
chill bumps down your spine when a million voices sing,
Oh partigiano, portami via
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao Bella ciao, ciao ciao
Symbols of Italian Communism. Symbols for those who in Berlinguer�s time still had hopes for
revolution. Now, today, with increasing frequency we hear the word revolution
in America. The revolution in the making has been defined as the Third American
Revolution -- after those of 1776 and 1865. The atmosphere is coming to
resemble the mood that swept across Europe in the 1970s and 80s when the Red
Brigades in Italy, Red Army Fraction in Germany and Direct Action in France
launched their armed attacks on the state, in the conviction that they were the
Australian writer Desmond O�Grady describes in his Stages
of the Revolution (Hardie Grant,
Melbourne, 2004) the 1854 rebellion of gold miners on the Eureka field in the
city of Ballarat, Victoria, who organized themselves in a stockade against the
maladministration. Some 30 people were killed when a scared government put
them down. Some in the government thought it was a �democratic revolution,� and
feared it foreshadowed a republic. Nowadays that Eureka stockade is still an
inspiration for some for a different Australia. Some would like its flag to be
the Australian flag.
The symbol of the
Eureka Stockade is a flag, a flag that ignores the Union Jack. Instead, on a
blue field a cross with stars at the extremities represents the Southern Cross
seen so vividly in the Southern hemisphere -- the original is still preserved
as a symbol of rebellion.
Movements of resistance, rebellion, revolt and revolution
have always been rich in slogans and rituals and symbols that can be more
powerful and unifying than any speeches: the red flags and the hammer and
sickle meant resistance; the names Red Brigades and Red Army Fraction and
Direct Action meant revolt and revolution.
Fascism, always strong in symbols in an Italy in that period
especially susceptible to symbolism, also considered itself a revolution. The
poet and Mussolini mentor, Gabriele d�Annunzio, once attributed Fascism�s
success to its symbols, to its songs, like Giovinezza, that Italians of that generation still
There is a story of Hitler�s arrival at an Italian rail
station -- maybe it was Venice -- frumpy and gauche in a crumpled raincoat, met
by Italian Fascists in their pompous uniforms following strict Italo-Fascist
rituals. Hitler was so impressed by the potentiality of such symbolism that he
decided on the whole mythological representation of Nazism, the uniforms, the
nocturnal parades, the symbolic use of torches and the herald-like banners of
militants on the K�nigsplatz in Munich and the other great squares in Nuremberg
D�Annunzio, by the way, also coined the slogan, Forza
Italia (Let�s go, Italy), the name of the rightwing party created by Silvio
This article is about the relationship between symbols and
revolutionary ideas and experience of some of history�s more successful
revolutions, especially the one nearest us today, the Russian Revolution and
its reflection in the rest of the world.
The red flag and hammer and sickle
Since ancient�s Rome�s slaves rose up against their
oppressors many of the revolutionary symbols down through the centuries have
been similar. For two spring months in the year 1871, the red flag waved over
Paris. It became the symbol of the historical act of the prise du pouvoir, the seizing of power, by Socialists
and Anarchists. Though it was simply the city authority, the conditions in
which the Paris Commune was born and its bloody end made it an important link
in the chain of events marking the development of workers� resistance to
traditional power. Their red flag stood for revolt, for bloodshed. It
symbolized the aspirations of the international proletariat for revolution
against oppression and exploitation, which culminated in the Russian Revolution
40 years later.
The Paris Commune itself is a symbol of proletarian
revolution. The mere mention today of the Paris Commune rings revolutionary to
Practically every human being is familiar with the hammer
and the sickle and the red star, the most famous symbols of Communism and
Communist parties. The symbiosis of the sickle and the hammer (serp and molot)
adorning red flags illustrate the unity of industrial and agricultural workers
in revolution. Not surprisingly, some members of the European Parliament have
recently proposed a ban on the hammer and sickle symbol.
The red symbol is a favorite scarecrow, a bugaboo, used by
Capitalism to maintain its power. The supposedly invincible �Red� Army poised
to sweep over Western Europe was the bugbear used by the USA to create the Cold
War and its military instruments like NATO now in Afghanistan to fight
The Russian born anarchist, Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921), wrote
in his major work, The Great French Revolution: �A revolution is
infinitely more than a series of insurrections in town and country. It is more
than a simple struggle between parties, however sanguinary; more than mere
street-fighting, and much more than a mere change of government. . . . A
revolution is a swift overthrow, in a few years, of institutions which have
taken centuries to root in the soil, and seem so fixed and irremovable that
even the most ardent reformers hardly dare to attack them in their writings. It
is the fall, the crumbling away in a brief period, of all that up to that time
composed the essence of social, religious, political and economic life in a
nation. It means the subversion of acquired ideas and of accepted notions
concerning each of the complex institutions and relations of the human herd. In
short, it is the birth of completely new ideas concerning the manifold links in
citizenship -- conceptions, which soon become realities, and then begin to
spread among the neighboring nations, convulsing the world and giving to the
succeeding age its watchword, its problems, its science, its lines of economic,
political and moral development.�
The Italian writer and semiologist, Umberto Eco, defines
revolution as �the sum total of a long series of revisions.� He says that
�society on the other hand has become a universe devoid of a center. Everything
is periphery. There is no longer a heart of anything. Only romantic terrorists
of the Red Brigades believed that the state had a heart and that it was
In an interview with me, Eco said that Michel Foucault had
elaborated the most convincing notion of power (against which revolutions
explode) in circulation: �power is not only repression and interdiction but it
is also incitement to speak. . . . Power is not one single power. It is not
massive. It is not a unidirectional process between an entity that commands and
its subjects. Power is multiple and ubiquitous. It is a network of consensuses
that depart from below. Power is a plurality. Power is the multiplicity of
relationships of strength.� Eco�s theory is that criticism of power has
degenerated because that criticism became massive which in turn spawned
ingenuous notions that power -- the system -- had one center, symbolized by the
evil man with a black mustache manipulating the working class.
The French Revolution proved Kropotkin right. It had the
effects he outlined. In that sense, the Paris Commune was not a revolution; at
the most it was the tail end, the last throes of the French Revolution a
In the same manner, the aspirations of the European
so-called terrorist organizations of the last century pale in comparison to
revolution; though ambitious, generous, idealistic and highly ideological, and
based on the two pillars of an intellectual vanguard and workers, they were
limited in scope and realism. Their only symbols were the pistol, the red flag
and the five-pointed star. Nor were the objective conditions in modern United
Europe ready for revolution. The Red Brigades chief, Alberto Franceschini, told
me afterwards that they had truly believed the modern state had a heart and
that they could strike it and turn history around.
The Red Brigades had however learned many lessons from
Russian revolutionaries. Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky insisted that to make
a revolution, it is not enough that a movement of ideas should manifest itself
only among the educated classes. Insurrections by the people do not make a
revolution. Revolutionary action by the people must coincide with a movement of
revolutionary thought among the educated classes. The two approaches to
revolution were necessary, dedication and heart: the professional revolutionary
Lenin created revolution with words; Trotsky was the revolutionary of the heart.
There must then follow a union of the two, the people and the vanguard, as
happened in England in 1640-1660, in France in 1789 and finally in Russia in
Recognition of the original international character of the
Russian Revolution of 1917 is fundamental to understanding its success: Workers
of the world unite was its slogan and the hammer and sickle the symbol.
Lenin furthermore believed the Russian Revolution was doomed to defeat by
capitalist counter-revolution unless it generated proletarian socialist
revolutions in West Europe. Russian revolutionaries originally had no illusions
that a revolution in Russia alone could succeed: permanent and international
revolution was the key to victory. Therefore, its internationalist slogans.
We have the example of the Cuban Revolution today. Though it
overthrew the corrupt US-backed dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, Cuba faced
US sanctions and an entire Latin America dominated by US capitalism. The Cuban
Revolution brought social progress to the people, universal health care and
education and exported doctors and medical care to several African countries.
Still today Argentineans and other Latin Americans go to Cuba for serious
medical care. Cuba remains as a spiritual guide for the Left in Latin America.
Economically, Cubans continue to suffer because of the US
embargo. Its problems lie in its isolation. As Lenin and Trotsky insisted in
the early days of the Russian Revolution, Socialist revolution in one country
is not possible. If impossible in huge Russia, how much more so in the island
state of Cuba. Since it could rely only on the Soviet Union, since the collapse
of the USSR, Cuba�s economic sufferings have increased. Now, with Castro�s
retirement, the capitalist world is ready to pounce.
However, times have changed. The emergence of the Left and
diverse forms of Socialism in Latin America has created a new objective
situation. Cuba is no longer in total isolation. Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador
and Nicaragua have elected pro-Cuban left-wing governments; the Mexican
electorate has swung Left; Brazil, Argentina and Chile are now friendly states.
ALBA (Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas), the Venezuelan creation to
oppose the IMF, the World Bank and US neo-liberalism in general. The figures of
the freedom fighters Mart� and Bol�var and Che Guevara are symbols of
liberation from US hegemony, in the same way the Cuban Revolution itself is a
symbol of Latin American revolution. For this reason alone, the capitalist
world is dedicated to crushing the Cuban Revolution. Cubans themselves however
continue to favor Castro but, as happened in the Soviet Union, they detest the
plague of Bureaucratism.
Today, Cuba�s new slogan is: Down with corruption and the
Bolshevik Revolution and universal brotherhood
Nicolas Berdyaev (b. 1874 in Kiev, d. 1948 in Paris) in his The
Origin of Russian Communism,
written in 1937 and published in English in 1960 as an Ann Arbor paperback by
The University of Michigan Press, distinguishes between the Russian �Bolshevik�
Revolution and Communism in the West, which he defines as a phenomenon of
Berdyaev recalls the legend that sprang up in Russia in the
early years of the revolution about Bolshevism and Communism: in popular
thought Bolshevism itself was a revolution of the Russian masses, �an
inundation of the elemental forces of Russian nature.� But Communism was
something foreign, Western; it was not Russian and was imposed upon the
people�s revolution by a despotic organization. In the end, after years of
chaos and recklessness, the unruly, nihilistic masses were disciplined and
organized in the elemental force of the revolution by the �Communist� idea. The
anarchy threatening Russia was checked, contained and absorbed by the Communist
One reason for the success of Bolshevism as defined above is
that Russians are a people but not a nation. The state symbolized by Orthodoxy
and the double-headed eagle was always distant from the people, while their
Tsar was a godlike �Little Father.� For that reason, as author and religious
thinker Vladimir Weidle noted, the �dismaying abyss between upper-class culture
and the culture of the people, contrasting with the harmonious unity of the
ancient and autochthonous Orthodox culture.� But, that unity, as we know today,
turned out to be illusion.
Berdyaev, philosopher, religious existentialist thinker and
prolific writer, who broke with Marxism and Bolshevism and left Russia for
Western Europe in 1922, wrote that Russian Communism was actually the transformation
and deformation of the old Russian messianic idea of international brotherhood,
and, in that sense, a reflection of the Russian religious mind.
On one hand, history has demonstrated again and again that
the Russian idea of universal brotherhood is utopian. Likewise the idea that
workers of the world will unite is utopian. Milovan Djilas, the leading
Yugoslav Communist and lifetime Socialist, noted after imprisonment for his
dissidence in Tito�s Communist Yugoslavia: �the disintegration or change in
Communist visions is both a vertical and a horizontal process and the
restratification of society.� The disintegration he meant was vertical in the
Communist idea itself, and in each party separately; horizontal in that it
underwent a multilateral breakaway with the national parties separating from
each other as well as from the Communist superpowers.
Besides Djilas� striking insights on the birth and growth of
�The New Class� deprived of any ideology, in each Communist state, (and I would
note that the new bureaucratic class itself had no symbols, no rituals, no
slogans, or even admitted its existence as a class), he had in mind
specifically Yugoslavia�s breakaway from Moscow and the divisions along
national lines in the multi-ethnic and multi-religious state of Yugoslavia.
When I interviewed him several times in Belgrade on the eve of the Balkan wars,
he outlined in advance the bloody breakup of Tito�s Yugoslavia into ferocious
nationalism, which is culminating in these days with Kosovo�s separation from
Though Djilas� analysis of the new class and the national
paths to Communism were penetrating and based on his lifetime experience, I
today do not accept his breakaway conclusion that Communism is therefore
unsuitable for contemporary life. Moreover, I believe Djilas himself would
revise many of conclusions today in view of American globalization-imperialism.
Perhaps we today need to take another look at the slogan, Workers
of the world, unite!
Permanent and international revolution
What a difference it would have made if Trotsky had not gone
to Mexico to meet his destiny. Oh, Leon, don�t go to Mexico! Leo! Don�t!
Vladimir! -- Pardon, Illych -- watch out for the Man of Steel. Watch out! How a
few words of one person, a decision, a false step, can change the course of
human events! But they don�t listen to reason, the revolutionaries. They have
minds and hearts of their own.
Pictures of Marx,
Lenin and Mao Zedong remain as emblems of the philosophy of Communism. Today,
as a result of the tightening US encirclement of �post-Communist� Russia, huge
portraits of Lenin mushroom on Red Square while parades of missiles pass before
surprised crowds, many of whom are too young to have seen the First of May
parades of the Soviet era. In view of US pressure on Russia, I would bet that
this year�s May Day parade will be the biggest and most symbolic since 1989.
And, as many do, I hope for a revival of a Russia, Holy or Profane, in order to
control rampaging and loony Washington.
The philosopher Berdyaev envisioned what latter day Western
European Communists came to believe as they saw the degeneration of the Soviet
model into Bureaucratism: despite its basis in Marxism, Communism in Western
Europe is truly an entirely different matter. Communism elsewhere, Berdyaev
predicted, would be less integrated, more secular and less likely to try to
take the place of religion, and most likely more bourgeois. (The latter
emphasis reflects the typical Russian characteristic, which Berdyaev shared, of
the �differentness� of the Russian people and the resulting Asiatic quality of
In that sense, I disagree with the revisionism and debunking
of Western Communism-Socialism and Euro-communism of the 1970s. The West is not
Asiatic. Nor is it Russia. Italian Communists came to realize in the late 1960s
that they had no need of the Russian brand of Communism. On the other hand, I
do not accept that �Russian� Communism was the reason for the failure of the
Socialist attempt in Russia. That is to be found in the Bureaucratism of which
Considering especially the Russian experience in retrospect,
one realizes the immensity of the word �revolution.� The revolutionary vanguard
of the educated and politically aware faces enormous challenges such as ridding
the people of their illusions and false consciousness of what their society is
in reality. Nothing has changed in the fundamentals: Somehow the vanguard must
get its revolutionary message to the masses in order to create a mass
awakening, to radicalize the masses and create a new consciousness.
One such message today is the phony nature of elections in
the USA and in much of Europe and, on the other hand, the �idea� of a different
kind of democracy, which is alive among the people.
Some basic terms
The European bourgeoisie is not to be confused with the
American Middle Class. They might be similar but they are not the same thing.
Italy and France are largely bourgeois states while the USA is middle class.
The European bourgeoisie has created more culture, while in the USA, most
probably because of social mobility (rapidly vanishing), culture and art can
come from anywhere.
Since the rebellious years following 1968, Europe shows less
fixed class relationships. Europe is again rich. As a result, its daily life is
more �bourgeois.� Within that bourgeoisie are the highly educated classes of
yesterday. The politico-revolutionary vanguard derives from that class.
Therefore from within that class emerge the thinking and movements for drastic
social change. On the other hand, though considered somewhat outdated today,
the term bourgeoisie still packs a wallop as used by the Left in Europe and the
USA to depict the society the Left opposes.
In medieval France, the bourgeoisie was the property-owning
class who lived in towns and established its own life style. Marx used the word
bourgeoisie to describe the class of capitalist society, which existed by
exploiting the labor of the working class. In Marxist terms, bourgeoisie plays
an essential role in history by its revolutionizing of industry and modernizing
of society. Moreover, by its inevitable exploitation of the workers it creates
the tensions necessary to ignite the revolution. Bourgeoisie thus became a term
of abuse on the Left for its enemies -- �bourgeois values� and �bourgeois
Though Lenin like Marx fostered the idea of a bourgeois
revolution to precede the proletarian revolution, he continued to detest
bourgeois reformists as procrastinating and pusillanimous, a yoke that ultimately
had to be done away with. In the meantime however the bourgeoisie was an �ally�
of the working class in its revolutionary aspirations. For the working class,
it was more advantageous if bourgeois democracy came about by way of revolution
rather than reformism; it was a question of speed. The revolutionary way, the
professional revolutionary Lenin believed, is quick amputation of the putrid
parts of society. After the real revolution there would be no place for them in
the new society.
Finally, in Europe, the bourgeoisie was guilty of permitting
if not creating Fascism in order to preserve its social rule, private property
and the capitalist system, threatened by the Revolution that Western Socialists
were never able to pull off. For the European bourgeoisie, Fascism was merely
an annoyance that saved their system. In that sense, Fascism and Capitalism
controlled and protected each other mutually against the working class.
In the USA, middle class refers chiefly to the economic
class situated between the poor and the upper rich class, in effect, the
capitalists. Today however the increasingly impoverished middle class has in
many cases sunk to levels nearer that of the poor. The more economically
impotent they become, the more politically disenfranchised they feel; yet,
surprisingly one notes little solidarity between middle class and poor, nor
inclination toward revolt by either. The middle class supported capitalism in
the creation of neocon America. Receptive listeners to the revolutionary
message tend to be on the fringes.
Lionel Trilling defined middle class in relation to the
government. From the ruling or governing class one scales down to the lowest
classes which are cut out totally from any relation with the government. The
middle class, situated midway between the two, continues to believe -- in its
overwhelming false consciousness -- that the government exists for it
and for its interests. It seems to me that the major target for
proponents of radical change should be precisely the deaf and dumb, ignorant
and obtuse, superpatriotic middle class.
Of Liberals, Leo Tolstoy wrote: �I sit on a man�s back,
choking him and making him carry me, and yet assure myself and others that I am
very sorry for him and wish to ease his lot by all possible means, except by
getting off his back.� In a similar vein, Lionel Trilling wrote that, �Liberals
and Progressives know that the poor are our own equal in every sense except
that of being equal to us.� Even Mussolini said, �A Liberal State is a mask behind
which there is no face.�
Often intolerant and extremist and sanctimonious in their
limited views, Liberals can take strong stands on minor community improvements;
they can work themselves into a fury and campaign relentlessly and join sit-ins
and carry placards concerning, let�s say, how the local school yard is to be
used on weekends or about alternate days for trash pick-up, and still ignore
the concept of social justice for all. Viewed from the distance, I, therefore,
am dubious about so-called grassroots activities: naturally they are welcome,
but I suspect in the long run harmless. No wonder Power as a rule lets them
sit-in, sit-out, march and carry little placards.
As Berdyaev showed, Liberals are the opposite of the
Russians' striving for world brotherhood. In the final analysis, Liberals, at
the most only potentially revolutionary, are Power�s ally and stand in the way
of drastic social change.
Slogans, symbols and rituals
To read of the Russian Revolution today is to read a
continuing story of symbols and signs. The victorious Bolsheviks raised their
red flag over the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg in October of 1917. In
subsequent days, workers poured onto Red Square, Krasnaya Ploschad, singing the song of the international
proletariat, the Internationale.
In the Russian language, the word for red, krasny, also means beautiful. When Russian revolutionaries overthrew
Tsardom, they raised a red flag, a �beautiful� flag, and named Moscow�s famous
square Red or Beautiful Square, making red the color of Communism.
Since the price of revolution is also marked in blood, the
red color takes on a special significance in the international workers�
movement. The red flag represents revolutionary aspirations of the oppressed in
revolt against established power and injustice. The red flag meant battle
already 2,000 years ago for Rome�s legionnaires. As did the slaves of Rome,
also peasants in revolt in south-central Germany in 1525 waved the red flag.
Red is also a warning to counter-revolutionaries: danger, fire, stop.
The red color, the red star, the red flag came to symbolize
the aspirations of people of the world for a new kind of freedom. Those symbols
are international. They are the symbols of resistance, rebellion and
revolution. Each time people rise up somewhere in the world against
illegitimate power and oppression, they raise the red flag.
Whether or not they have ever been inside a factory,
sensitive people sympathize with one of the most effective slogans ever
invented: Workers of the world, unite!
Trotsky, writing of the effects of the revolution in St.
Petersburg, then named Petrograd, noted that revolution had made millions of
people spring to their feet. Russians were in a fever to unite, a very Russian
feeling. The slogans and manifestos, the names of their press organs, Pravda
(Truth) and Vperiod (Forward), proclaimed a new reality, a new era. The
slogan, All power to the Soviets, exhorted the passing of power to the
people while their red flag soared over the Winter Palace.
Russia�s major poet after Pushkin, Aleksandr Blok, wrote his
greatest poem, Dvenadtsat' (The Twelve, 1918) about the Russian
Revolution. In the poem a band of 12 Red guardsmen, apostles of destruction,
march in the first winter of Bolshevik Russia through the icy streets of
Petrograd, looting and killing. They are led by a Christ figure, �crowned with
a crown of snowflake pearls, / a flowery diadem of frost,� who appears beneath
a red flag. The poem sold some 2 million copies in three years, was on the
Vatican index and was long banned in Fascist countries. Also the Russian Futurists were fascinated with
dynamism, speed, and restlessness of modern urban life which revolution
promised. They sought to arouse controversy and to attract publicity by
repudiating static art of the past. Like the Bolsheviks, they wanted to change
Change was in the
air everyone breathed, in each slogan, in each symbol, in each ritual. Such
were the times. Such is the atmosphere of revolution.
A revolutionary movement needs its symbols and rituals
reflecting its ideology. No movement is political without an ideology. Thus we
don�t mock symbols. We need symbols. They encourage the vanguard and work
wonders on the people. Therefore, Power takes a dimmer view of symbols than of
Liberals� demonstrations and manifestations and sit-ins.
The Internationale never fails to stir our emotions;
it keeps alive the spark. I once saw on Italian TV an Irish dance group of some
20 persons dressed in traditional black, shoulder to shoulder across the stage,
performing their beautiful coordinated Irish dance to a modern version of the Internazionale!
So comrades, come rally And the last fight let us face
The Internationale unites the human race.
I was so swept up at the modernity, the fast music, and the
tap, tap, tap in rhythm with the Internationale, that I telephoned the TV studios to learn where I could get a
copy of it.
Nothing! No one had ever heard of it. Irish dancers? La Internazionale? On state TV? Nothing. Somehow
it got there by an oversight.
The song of Italian leftwing partisans in World War II, Bella
Ciao, today, in this 2008
electoral campaign also in Italy, stirs the hearts of the Left . . . and
irritates the Right. It creates tensions because of its echoes and distinct
effects. Any time, any place it sounds, people join in at the top of their
He wakes up one morning and finds an invader in his land and
Oh partigiano, portami via
Oh bella ciao, bella ciao Bella ciao, ciao ciao
E se io muoio da partigiano
Morto per la libert�.�
carry me away, Oh, beautiful girl, ciao, ciao, ciao. And if I die as a
partisan, dead for freedom. Oh
bella ciao ciao ciao, etc.)
Rossa (The Red Flag) the song of Italian Communists: bandiera rossa,
bandiera rossa trionfer�. The red flag will triumph!
Every society makes some objects sacred -- totems, animal
images, gods, holy books, flags, or concepts such as freedom or democracy. A
society's sense of its own special identity depends also upon the boundaries between
what is sacred and what is profane. The profane world is ordinary but sacred
objects (flags) and times (revolution) and even places (Red Square) are sacred,
protected by taboos and reinforced by ceremony and ritual -- and in some cases
by prayer and pledges. The ceremony and rituals are intended to bond members of
the society and guarantee its survival. Flags thus bear the value the society
gives them. Symbols inspire devotion and loyalty among those who identify with
Such are the reasons for the commotion about the Pledge of
Allegiance in the USA and prayers in public schools in Italy or Islamic girls
wearing head scarves in France. The flag arouses passions because it underlines
identity and purpose, successes and failures as a people. For Socialists, the
red flag arouses the same emotions as the stars and stripes for most Americans.
For Socialists it symbolizes brotherhood and social justice; for many
Americans, the flag symbolizes ideals such as liberty, equality, and justice
In theory to pledge allegiance to the flag was to honor
those ideals as well as the American institutions that upheld them. However,
today, for other Americans, the flag evokes awareness of the gap between those
ideals and the realities of Americanism such as racism, imperialism and
war. For those people to pledge loyalty to the symbol of today�s America smacks
of hypocrisy and chauvinism.
Some slogans and rituals are universal and are used for
better or worse by all regimes. For example, �general elections.� Even
one-party systems count on the fiction of elections. Every man can express his
democratic vote! Fascism used elections to arrive at Power. Late Soviet
Communism used elections to satisfy the fundamental human desire to pretend to
choose. The US one-party system guarantees its democratic fa�ade with the
charade of a phony two-party system and elections that guarantee continuous
electoral campaigning and provide the platform for debating the ephemeral
differences between Obama and Hillary.
The Russian Revolution is a symbol itself, its own symbol,
the symbol of revolutions to come. It reinforced the Leninist image and idea of
the power of the working class. The heart of Leninism was that only the masses
can make a revolution. Yet, as he outlined in his famous pamphlet, What Is
To Be Done, it had to be led by a
small group of professional revolutionaries like Lenin himself. Other
revolutionary icons such as Rosa Luxemburg and also Karl Marx adhered to the
same theory. Lenin believed that the proletariat included the entire working
class. It would form the Soviets, which in turn would provide the necessary
minimum administration of society.
That is, the Soviets of the simple people hurtled into power
over huge Russia! Mass support of the working class was the key. This �na�ve
period� of Leninism was thus �Sovietist.� Not so for his follower, Stalin, I
Leninism was only gradually overcome in Russia and
supplanted by insistence on the role of the Party together with the vanguard.
Its role was to educate the working class. Abroad, Lenin pushed toward United
Fronts with other Left parties in Europe to gain that mass support. Decades
later, the combination of such policies morphed into European Communism, of
which Antonio Gramsci, the founder of the Italian Communist Party in 1921,
Earlier than others of his generation, the Marxist Antonio
Gramsci (1891-1937), one of the founders of the Italian Communist Party (PCI)
and a major Marxist thinker, took a distance from Leninism and its emphasis on
the revolutionary vanguard party. He knew nothing of Lenin until 1917 and Lenin
had never even heard of Gramsci. Leninism was only one ingredient in Gramsci�s
theory for social change. Though Leninism is now largely history, Gramsci�s
contributions to Socialist thought are intact. Leninism is widely considered
demagogy, the opposite of Gramscian intellectual pursuit and culture.
In Gramscian thinking, revolutionary violence is not the
only way to change things. He supported political action to challenge the
hegemony of the capitalist class. Though a revolutionary, Gramsci did not
advocate any kind of totalitarian Weltanschauung. He amended Marx�s conviction
that social development originates only from the economic structure; Gramsci�s
distinction of culture was a major advance for radical thought, and it still
The Italian Marxist recognized that political freedom is a
requisite for culture; if religious or political fanaticism suppresses the
society, art will not flower. To write propaganda or paint conformist art is to
succumb to the allures and/or the coercion of the reigning system. For that
reason, most artists are countercurrent. That is also why artists should stay
far away from the White House or the Elys�es Palace.
Though the Stalinist brand of Communism in Eastern Europe
failed and those states disappeared, the European Right -- in Italy, France,
Spain, Greece -- continues to raise the specter of the �Communist� threat to
�family� and �our values.� In the minds of many non-Communists, Communism is
still associated with the former USSR.
Yet, Communistic ideas are as old as man: a social system
characterized by the community of goods and the absence of private property.
Such ideas marked the organization of the first Christian communities.
Communism first appeared in ancient Greece advocating the community of all
goods. In the 19th century Communistic ideas inspired reformists all over
Europe, ideas of equality and the abolition of private property.
Today, many Communist slogans sound more utopian than
threatening. Communism itself is nearly a myth, abstract even in countries that
call themselves Communist, like China. Yet, Gramsci has particular significance
for people ready to battle for radical change in America. In his last years he
wrote about the role of intellectuals as organizers of revolutionary practice
according to which revolution is only made by organized, self-conscious masses
of men. Radical thinkers and activists in the USA would do well to examine
closely Gramscian theories.
Trotsky, in The New Course, summed up with the
paradox that �History is made by men, but men do not always make history
consciously, not even their own.�
Stewart is a senior contributing editor at Cyrano's Journal Online. Originally
from Asheville, NC. he has lived his adult life in Germany and Italy,
alternated with residences in The Netherlands, France, Mexico, Argentina and
Russia. After a career in journalism as a correspondent for the Rotterdam
newspaper, Algemeen Dagblad, he began writing fiction. His collections of short
stories, "Icy Current Compulsive Course, To Be A Stranger" and
"Once In Berlin" are published by Wind River Press. His new novel,
"Asheville," is published by www.Wastelandrunes.com
He lives with his wife, Milena, in Rome, Italy. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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