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Our Flag Has Always Been Internationalist — The Red Flag!

The extreme Right in France is attacking revolutionary presidential candidate Anasse Kazib for not waving the French flag at his campaign’s kickoff rally. Everything in this response could be said about flying the U.S. flag. In every country, we choose to fly the red flag of workers’ internationalism, not the national flags of imperialism, colonialism, and bourgeois oppression.

Nathan Erderof

October 25, 2021
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After the resounding success of the campaign launch rally for Anasse Kazib, the revolutionary working-class candidate for France’s presidency in the 2022 elections, the French extreme Right got busy spewing out its hatred. All over Twitter, right wingers demanded the “remigration” of the railway worker and presidential candidate. And then the rag Valeurs actuelles published an article denouncing the rally because “no tricolor flag was visible in the room” — that is, the flag of the French republic. This screed regarding the absence of the tricolor flag was next taken up by the “polemicists” on TPMP,1Translator’s note: Touche pas à mon poste! (TPMP) is a live talk show on French television broadcast each weeknight and rebroadcast throughout the daytime hours. who seem to have just discovered that on the far Left, as much for us as it is for the New Anticapitalist Party (NPA) and for Lutte Ouvrière (LO), our flag is internationalist, and red!

What’s behind this latest torrent of racist hatred and deep class contempt from the extreme right? The absence of the French flag at the rally is a pretext for these nazillons, these fascist wannabes, in need of some “blue, white, and red.” A few dozen of them retweeted each other to the point of apoplexy. But the real issue, not overshadowed by the tricolor flag affair, is the colorful composition of the rally participants and those on the platform, as well as the North African origin of the candidate himself. That’s what triggered the outpouring of hatred.

The Tricolor Is Not Our Flag 

To associate this controversy with the extreme Right alone, however, would be to make it too simplistic. That was made clear by the “hysteria” the absence of blue-white-red flags triggered on the set of TPMP, where most of the “polemicists” attacked Anasse Kazib by comparing him to … wait for it … Eric Zemmour! Yes, the far-right media figure who is covered daily by the press and whose remarks are used by all the pollsters! 

It’s true: on the far Left, in the NPA, in LO, as in Révolution Permanente, we do not display the tricolor flag. Its absence at our rally was not some novelty! So it’s clear that the flag issue is not really the foundation of the violent diatribes against Anasse Kazib on TPMP.

More broadly, the majority of the political class wants everyone to believe that the absence of the French flag translates into a de facto hatred of the French, as if the French state and the French population are one and the same. It is a fusion of the two aimed at erasing any notion of social classes and instead creating the illusion of some uniform whole nation, a Republic behind which we should all stand.
But something quite obvious seems to have escaped the TPMP polemicists: the tricolor flag is not ours. As revolutionaries, we do not wave the French flag; we wave the red flag. When big news affects everyone, we don’t come together to sing the national anthem, “La Marseillaise”; we sing “The Internationale.” That’s because, as Anasse Kazib declared at the campaign rally, 

Our France is not the France of kings and great men, idealized by Zemmour, but the France of the sans-culottes, the Communards, the insurgent slaves of Haiti, the great strikes of 1936, and the general strike of 1968 — struggles that Sarkozy and Zemmour would like to erase from history.

It’s not about whether the French flag ever expressed people’s revolutionary inclinations, as it did for the sans-culottes. When the Yellow Vests passed the tricolor flag from hand to hand, we wrote that the flag, “absent an alternative unifying collective reference [could be experienced] as the only factor bringing together men and women who had never previously demonstrated.” In the same way, we wrote of singing “La Marseillaise” that 

within the framework of a Macron administration that is more ‘monarchic’ than presidencies typically are in the Fifth Republic — a sensation that is reinforced by Jupiter-like haughtiness and arrogance — it could be taken up, consciously or not, with a strong dose of regicide and ‘La Carmagnole.’2Translator’s note: “La Carmagnole” was a popular song during the French Revolution. Its title refers to the short jacket work by the sans-culottes, adopted from the peasant costume from the Piedmont. The only difference today is that it is no longer the aristocrats who are to be hanged, but the president himself.

Surely this isn’t what the extreme Right means when it calls for the “remigration” of a working-class presidential candidate. Doesn’t Eric Zemmour himself, one of its champions, claim to be a Maurras, an anti-republican royalist? Doesn’t Zemmour claim that the French Revolution is the origin of “French decadence”? In fact, the tricolor flag is something else: it is the symbol of a fantasy France, unchanging and deeply racist, the France of Nazi collaborator Pétain, the France of the crimes of imperialism and colonialism, of anti-worker repression and of ultra-nationalist vomit. It is the symbol of the French bourgeoisie, which, with the exception of the Restoration period from 1815 to 1830, has made the tricolor its standard ever since the French Revolution.

There are those today who wave the French flag in the name of these patriotic and racist ideas, but most do so out of ignorance. And that is the fault of those who claim to be on our side. It includes the Social Democrats who sent the workers and peasants to be massacred in 1914, all in the name of the values of the Republic and its colors. More recently, it is the fault of those others who, in their roles as reformist leaders of the labor movement — notably the French Communist Party — have manipulated the tricolor as part of their “made in France” and “defend jobs” campaigns, distributing huge numbers of French flags at their meetings and rallies. And then there are those who, as Anasse Kazib put it at the campaign rally, 

would have us believe that internationalism is outdated — including even those on the institutional Left who have betrayed us so many times while explaining to us that we should fight for the fatherland, for economic protectionism, and against immigration.

Our Flag Is Red 

In Paris in 1848, when the working class for the first time aspired to lead society, Auguste Blanqui defended the red flag as a symbol of the “social” Republic, of the workers’ Republic against that of the bourgeois Republic. He said:

The people raised the red colors on the barricades of ’48, just as they raised them on those of June 1832, April 1834, and May 1839. They have received the double consecration of defeat and victory. From this day on, these colors are theirs. … It is said it is a flag of blood. It is only red with the blood of the martyrs.

The day after the overthrow of the July Monarchy in 1848, socialist and bourgeois republicans debated whether the red flag or the tricolor best embodied the values of the Republic, as Daniel Bensaïd reminds us in his preface to Gustave Lefrançais’ Souvenirs d’un révolutionnaire de juin 1848 à la Commune (Memories of a Revolutionary from June 1848 to the Commune): 

After June 1848, there was no longer one Republic, but two irreconcilable ones, the blue one and the red one, the bourgeois one and the social one. It was therefore only natural that the Paris Commune should take up the red banner as the symbol of the ‘Universal Republic’ and the ‘Republic of Labor’ before being crushed by the troops of the young Third Republic. After that, the Russian Revolution, in October 1917, made the red flag a symbol of communism and of the union of proletarians of all countries, against imperialism and fascism.3Daniel Bensaïd, “Connaissez-vous Lefrançais” (“Remembering Lefrançais”) in Gustave Lefrançais, Souvenirs d’un révolutionnaire de juin 1848 à la Commune (Paris: La fabrique, 2013): 14. First published in 1902.

The red flag has been the banner of the working class ever since it became aware of the antagonism between its interests and those of the bourgeoisie. That’s why we don’t fly those three colors that are synonymous with chauvinism, bellicose nationalism, and neocolonialism. Our heritage is not on the side of the French bourgeoisie and its crimes, but on the side of the history of the workers’ movement, that of 1848, the Commune, 1917, the repression of the strikes of 1936 and 1968.

As Anasse Kazib said from the rally podium:

Our political undertaking does not pass, first and foremost, through the ballot box. We are deeply convinced that it is through class struggle, through the general strike, and through the uprising of the great masses that we will succeed in changing the system. … More generally, we aim to promote the idea that the only path is to overthrow this system and replace it with a government of the workers themselves, based on new institutions that result from our struggles —a government that reorganizes the whole of society in the service of the well-being of the majority, without distinctions between gender, ethnicity, origin, or sexual orientation, and that safeguards the planet and the environment.

What stands between us and communism are our struggles and the bourgeoisie. The exploiters and the exploited have competing interests. The extreme Right displays its deep contempt for that message, especially when it comes from an Arab with militants from the working-class neighborhoods standing beside him. And we are not fools. We know that it is simply unbearable for the extreme Right to see the red flag revitalized, carried by a new generation of workers, some of whom are immigrants. They cannot tolerate seeing the red flag serve to unify our class against those who continually spew their racist rhetoric to divide our class. The extreme Right cannot accept seeing the red flag flying alongside Assa Traoré, the families of victims of police violence, and activists from working-class neighborhoods.

Last but not least, what the extreme Right cannot stomach is the reality of the working-class struggle and the new vitality with which the class struggle could arise in the years to come.

First published in French on October 22 in Révolution Permanente.

Translation by Scott Cooper

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