Rebuilding Socialist Patriotism in America

Erich Arbor on 2021-03-11

In the United States, reactionary forces parrot many lies about socialism and communism. One that stands out and always seems to stand the test of time is that Communists are naturally un-American. From the genesis of anti-communist sentiment, the chief lines aim to exoticize and alienate socialism from those who desperately require it the most, the American working class.

This myth largely persists due to the history of the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, in which our capitalist two-party duopoly led a bipartisan effort to criminalize and de-naturalize Communist organizing during the postwar era. Of course, one might wonder why a decade-long effort of public show trials attacking Communists was necessary in the first place, especially for combatting a politic that is supposedly against the American Way. Regardless, it does not take much review of American history to recognize that Communism is deeply embedded in the American tradition and is in direct accordance with forming “a more perfect union”, as chartered within our Constitution.

Americans in Proud Struggle

As recognized above, class struggle has been the sole reason any progressive change in the United States has occurred. It was Communists in the ranks of the Union Army like August Willich and Joseph Weydermeyer who fought alongside freedmen to defeat the Confederate insurrectionists. Karl Marx himself exchanged letters extensively with President Abraham Lincoln, encouraging him to end the barbaric institution of chattel slavery. It was the Communists that were martyred at Haymarket Square in Chicago that enshrined May Day the holiday it is, celebrated by workers worldwide. It was the Communists who organized the American steel industry, a sector previously assumed to be impossible to unionize. It was the Communists who were one of the first to sound the alarm on a national scale against Jim Crow, calling for the death penalty for lynchers. It was the Communists who organized the unemployed, pressuring the Roosevelt Administration to implement the New Deal, which brought infrastructure, education, and general welfare to millions of suffering working Americans during the Great Depression. It was the Communists within American society who valiantly fought Fascism in Spain, and eventually all of Europe, defeating the Nazis alongside our Soviet comrades-in-arms.

Communist partisans from the Abraham Lincoln Batallion, who fought courageously against Spanish Fascism.

Yes, Communism rolls deep throughout the history of this land. But sadly, those anti-Communist canards about how un-American it is to participate in the class struggle are being promulgated not by the Right-wing, but by Radical Liberals and Ultra-Leftists that call themselves socialists. They consider any pride in the people and progressive history of America as fascist. To these people, they consider upholding the American history of Abolitionism, Reconstruction, Steel Strikes, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and the Civil Rights era as reactionary as upholding the Klan. This absurdity is not only incorrect, it actively harms whatever weak links Communists still have to the American working class. The ruling class does not need to bring out the cameras and congressional subpoenas to promote anti-communism any longer, for those within our ranks do it for them. It is everyone’s right to be a nihilist, to condemn whatever they like. It is a completely different scenario to promote hatred of the working people, claiming yourself a Marxist in doing so.

This key contradiction needs to be put to rest once and for all. If we are to build socialism, these actors must abandon their anarchistic beliefs and carry a love for their own people, at the very least. Why this should be concerning is not because it is solely representing a destructive, hyper-critical, and ahistorical lens of our nation, it directly alienates normal working-class and poor Americans. For us to achieve worker power, to build a new country out of the old, we require the masses. Gus Hall, who served as the Chairman of the CPUSA from 1959–2000, remarked:

“One of the key ingredients in a revolutionary struggle is people in mass. People do not respond to commands or to exhortations. They do not respond to ideas–even good ideas–if they do not see their self-interests involved in these ideas.”

Thus, with this scientific law of organizing in mind, what does promoting an anti-American line as an American Communist do to the building of an American workers movement? The question begs itself. We should understand what there is to be done with this matter, especially when faced with research that found that statistically 100% of polled low-income working Americans identify as either ‘very’ or ‘quite’ proud of their country. This is not hyperbole. Sociologist Franceso Duina went to several parts of the country and interviewed varying demographics all unified under a low-income or working-class grouping, meeting them in laundromats, shelters, public libraries, and the like. For those trapped within Left-leaning online circles, this sounds alien. In the essentialist and somewhat racist characterizations of working people and people of color, the Radical Liberal assumes that these groups hate America, and spell it aKKKordingly. This assumption is no more dialectical and problematic than one saying that all Black people vote for Democrats.

Not only does this misrepresentation reactionarily essentialize the masses, but it also erases the patriotic contributions of working people, notable or nameless, in making this country better for their neighbor. The great James Baldwin noted that he “loved America more than any other country in this world and exactly, for this reason, insist[ed] on the right to criticize her perpetually.” Since Imperialist wars have become commonplace in our nation’s history, where poor men fight rich men’s wars, those who find themselves serving tend to skew further towards being people of color and overwhelmingly working class. A patriot does not a fortunate son make. As for these veterans, while their actions were misled and only benefited the empire, there is a sense of pride that comes with the discipline and achievement serving the country brings. We are to get nowhere if Communists are regarded as those that shame workers for believing in their country.

“We Won’t Fight Another Rich Man’s War!!!” — Vietnam Veterans Against the War, circa 1970

Fellow Compatriots

Josip Broz Tito, founder and longtime leader of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, profoundly speaks to what Socialist Patriotism entails. All existing and formerly-existing examples of state socialism, including Yugoslavia, Germany, Romania, and Poland, engaged with some form of instilling patriotic sentiment among the workers and peasants that proudly build these countries from the rubble of Nazi rule. Reading this speech given in 1948, Tito’s words ring relevant to every American communist, seeing as Yugoslavian multinational state represents a similar material reality as the United States.

We are nationalists to the exact degree necessary to develop a healthy socialist patriotism among our people, and socialist patriotism is in its essence internationalism. Socialism does not require of us that we renounce our love for our socialist country, that we renounce our love for our own people. Socialism does not require of us that we should not make every possible effort to build up our socialist country as quickly as possible, in order that we may so create the best possible living conditions for our working people. Our creative drive in building up our country, that is the creative drive of our workers, our youth, our people’s intelligentsia, and all our working peasants and citizens, who are voluntarily contributing their share to the work of construction within the People’s Front, — none of these things need, or indeed can, be stigmatised as some sort of nationalist deviation. No, this is socialist patriotism, which in its essence is profoundly international, and for that reason we are proud of it.

As it is laid out above by Tito and previously by Baldwin, we cannot separate being a socialist, one who seeks to radically change the structure of society for the betterment of all, and being a patriot. Even in contemporary examples of socialism such as that in Venezuela, Cuba, or China, their vanguard parties consistently remind the masses that they are the true patriots of their respective countries. To be a patriot is to be amidst the masses, holding the belief that united our country can develop, research, evolve, and learn from each other, improving and progressing the society as a whole.

Amazon Employees Strike for Unionization Efforts in Bessemer, Alabama. 2021.

We may call it whatever we like. Intercommunalism, as Newton and Hampton described and practiced. Brotherhood and Unity, as Tito termed it. Radical patriotism, as the CPUSA refers to it. Regardless of the term that arises, it must be a concept American Communists must strive for. Without it, we forsake the advice of Stalin, who along with William Z. Foster had admonished past Communist figures like Jay Lovestone for caving to “American Exceptionalism”, or those who believe the United States somehow exists outside of the material reality. Class struggle has existed in America since its conception. It is not our job to renounce the workers who desire to contribute to this struggle solely out of a love of their country. It is every Communist’s duty to provide workers with the organization, resources, and guidance to make this country all it is idealized to be.

Patriotism itself carries no moralistic definition at its core. It is an instrument to invigorate the masses, and what matters more is the ends in which you employ these means. The American Left refuses, to their own detriment, to embrace the values of democracy, the melting pot, equality, the right to life as simultaneously Socialist & American ideals. There is no logical reason to do this, for American workers overwhelmingly support these ideals that are impossible to realize within the current capitalist system.

In essence, socialist patriotism in America has highlighted and must highlight the proletarian character of American workers. The hard-working archetype and desire for constant development have been manipulated to benefit the libertarian and individualist ‘bootstraps’ ideology. Yet, collective action that has been integral to American history–– whether in defeating the Confederacy and European Fascism, organizing for civil rights over centuries, or building up our infrastructure and economy–– truly exemplify how mass unity and mass action have been what embodies the American way. A Communist that refuses to engage with this is as dumb as they are a traitor to class struggle.

Veterans, Communists Clash with Police in DC during Bonus Army March in 1932

As socialists and communists, what chiefly is our collective goal? Do we set out to spend the rest of our lives attending rallies that receive no mass corporate media attention, where a flag is burnt and nothing materially improves? Is the goal of a socialist to be a constant cynic to American society, berating working people who exhibit the slightest unconscious complicity towards Imperialism instead of organizing them?

Of course not. We as socialists in America want a country that we can take pride in. A society that feeds, educates, and houses its children, promotes peace and cooperative development worldwide, and eradicates scarcities surrounding necessities among all facets of life. A Socialist America, one to be proud of. This can only be achieved by organizing working people where they are at and using language and rhetoric that is familiar to them. We have a deep history of proletarian patriots struggling for class solidarity against the bourgeois state, one which has inspired dozens of decolonial and socialist revolutions worldwide. Many who have fought for independence from British colonial rule have invoked the American Declaration of Independence in their own acts of sovereignty. Lenin himself had this to say about the American revolutionary tradition:

The American people have a revolutionary tradition which has been adopted by the best representatives of the American proletariat, who have repeatedly expressed their complete solidarity with us Bolsheviks. That tradition is the war of liberation against the British in the eighteenth century and the Civil War in the nineteenth century. In some respects, if we only take into consideration the “destruction” of some branches of industry and of the national economy, America in 1870 was behind 1860. But what a pedant, what an idiot would anyone be to deny on these grounds the immense, world-historic, progressive and revolutionary significance of the American Civil War of 1863–65!

Conclusion

In the song, “The House I Live In”, its singers (including Frank Sinatra, Paul Robeson, and Sam Cooke) ask a question we all ask: What is America to me? The song was written by Abel Meeropol, a CPUSA member and adoptive father of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg’s orphan children after their execution. The lyrics go on to describe further ideals of America, of which Americans regardless of their level of class consciousness can relate to:

The house I live in, The friends that I have found, The folks beyond the railroad and the people all around, The worker and the farmer, the sailor on the sea, The men who built this country, that’s America to me.

All of these ideals–– freedom, democracy, neighborly camaraderie–– are all embedded deep within any person that has been socialized within American society. Americans are proud of these principles and intimately understand that something is sour and flawed about the contemporary American way of life. Of course, it is neoliberal capitalism that has made our lives more constrained, undemocratic, and alienated from our labor, our coworkers, and even our next-door neighbors. It is the role of American communists to agitate, educate, and organize our fellow countrymen using such rhetoric, so they too can understand that in order to greater a nation that is truly democratic and free, we must end capitalism once and for all.

The history of the United States is one of class struggle. When so-called Socialists in the US denounce their country as wholly reactionary, exceptionally racist, and unforgivably fascist, they do a disservice to millions in our nation’s history that have fought against all odds for progress and equity among Americans. Socialists must hold onto this history, wearing it on their sleeves, and present it in a way that working Americans– of which again virtually all are patriotic– finally find a connection towards. Only then will Communist organizing become truly a mass movement, when the masses see themselves in the history of our nation’s Communist struggle.