On the Problem of Red US Patriotism

Christian Noakes

What is red patriotism?

The most common answer given by those who uphold the idea of US socialist patriotism has been that the idea itself essentially acknowledges and honors the historical struggles of oppressed and exploited peoples in the US. But are the people opposed to the red patriots really ignoring or dismissing revolutionaries like Fred Hampton and Leonard Peltier? It shouldn’t take long to answer this question in the negative. Therefore, the distinction between these two tendencies cannot be accounted for in the proclaimed definition of red patriotism. The particular claims of the red patriots have to be considered to make sense of their ultimate position relative to revolutionary struggle.


Which workers are alienated by communists not waiving the US flag?

There is no doubt that patriotism exists within the working class—as it does within all other classes. However, the working class is far from homogenous. The claim that a disdain toward patriotism alienates the working class should lead one to ask which segments of the working class are being considered and which are excluded—and therefore alienated—from this statement. It is safe to say that Indigenous people generally are not moved by the symbols of their own ongoing genocide. In fact, it would be a gross oversimplification to assume that patriotism is a dominant or guiding principle either within the class as a whole or within most subsections of the class. In the absence of fully representational data, the red patriots rely on anecdotal evidence which cannot help but to abstract and oversimplify.


Those of us in the United States who are both workers and opposed to US patriotism certainly are alienated by the assumption that we need our class interests wrapped in the stars and stripes for us to pursue them, for we do not share their national faith. Their responses to our pushback can tell us something about the level of thought of red patriotism's loudest proponents—and, possibly, their level of material involvement in real struggle.


What are people who are inspired by the history of struggle on these lands without proclaiming their patriotism?

The red patriots have said these people are “ultras”—a charge which is often little more than a buzzword, robbed of its meaning. Another such charge has been that of either defeatism or of sterile pessimism. However, those opposed to the position of the red patriots aren’t simply throwing up their hands because the US is an occupying force. Rather, dedicated revolutionaries have—and continue to—struggle for things like housing, abolition, workplace democracy, international worker solidarity, and the rights of immigrants. These facts should be apparent to anyone truly engaged in struggle, regardless of whether or not they hold the red patriot position.


Is the patriotism of the working class the acknowledgement of struggle or the dominant, jingoistic patriotism?

The presence of patriotism in the working class is used to make the claim that these sentiments can be appealed to for revolutionary ends. This assumes that the meaning of patriotism within the working class adheres, to some degree, to a unique meaning of red patriotism. The patriotism of the working class is not uniquely divorced from the national conception of patriotism—a dominant idea of the dominant class. We cannot simply take the reins of a national faith which is imperialist by its very nature and think away its historical meaning for the rest of society. Aligning with US patriotism would be like revolutionary, anti-capitalist environmentalists aligning with neo-Malthusians or ecofascists because the latter profess a concern for the environment. Wherever one comes down on the question of red yankee patriotism, Marxists should be able to agree that the patriotism which is said to be an effective means to appeal to workers (i.e. red patriotism) is not the patriotism currently found in workers or any other class. Creating a different conception of US patriotism among a small segment of the online left does not change the content or the function of this hegemonic conception backed materially throughout the country’s history. US patriotism is central to colonial and imperialist aggression. It is the pride of the massacres at Wounded Knee and Mỹ Lai, not the ghetto rebellions of the 1960s or the Battle of Blair Mountain.


Despite claims or intents to the contrary, red patriots take a tailist position for the sake of convenience. It requires nothing more than an acquiescence to the oppressive ideology that has for centuries promoted false consciousness among the workers. It is to fail as revolutionaries by joining the ranks of the backward instead of working to raise their level of consciousness.