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A Viable Alternative?


By Carla D. Williams

I am not a Spart. Nor am I now or have I ever been a member of the Communist Party.

If I were to repeat the first statement two more times, that should undoubtedly convince all readers that I am lying. There is something about three times denial that strikes a chord in Americans. The same odd chord is struck with the thought of Communism, which is why I hastened to add the second statement.

Some members of the Spartacus Youth League tend to be avowed Communists. I am an American and a registered Democrat, so this is an unsettling fact. They also tend to write with a lot of exclamation points and use inflammatory phrases. I am an aspiring journalist, so this style of writing seems distasteful. Talking with one as he tried to sell me Young Spatacus, for example, I had to point out that the phrase "white-hooded Ku Klux Klan scum" was too strong a tone to take; it was also redundant.

But such criticisms inevitably fall on deaf ears. They are not trying to take an objective tone, the Sparts will tell you. They are about the formulation of revolutionary politics. One paragraph from "Young Spartacus" summarizes their political philosophy:

As Marxists, we fight for revolutionary integrationism, for the working-class strategy of uniting the labor movement with the oppressed against their common enemies--the racist, capitalist system and its agencies--in order to put an end to the capitalist order and all its filthy inequities once and for all. Critical to this is the construction of a revolutionary vanguard party with a key component of Black leadership....

The Sparts have been seen and hated on campus, most recently when Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger '38 spoke (or rather, had trouble speaking) at Sanders Theater. Two members of the Spartacus Youth League subsequently came before the Administrative Board for violating freedom of speech rights. If found heckling again, the two may be suspended from Harvard College.

Just a week ago, a Crimson article implied that the Sparts were attempting to disrupt the student protest for Harvard Divestment from South Africa. Having attended the rally and not noticed the Sparts' so-called disruption, it became even more clear how many people don't like the Sparts.

But last month in San Francisco, the Sparts gained national attention and support when one member of the Spartacus League, Ritchie Bradley, climbed the flag pole and tore a Confederate Flag down from above the San Francisco Civic Center, and threw it to the ground, where a crowd of 100 burned it. Bradley was wearing the uniform of the Union Army and climbed a pole that was more than 40 feet high, while demonstrators reportedly chanted. "The flag of slavery flies no more Time to finish the Civil War."

Bradley was then arrested, charged with vandalism and released on his own recognizance.

One wonders first why a Confederate flag would be flying in San Francisco, then why someone didn't tear it down before. The Confederate flag, long carried by Ku Klux Klan members on lynching, bombing and terrorist attacks against Blacks and progressive whites has been a symbol of incitement to racist violence since the Civil War.

The flag, according to the Oakland Tribune, was one of 18 historical banners donated to the city of San Francisco by the Bechtel Power Corp. To mark the 119th anniversary of the surrender of the Confederacy at Appomattox the Spartacus League decided to burn down the flag.

Bradley climbed the flagpole in San Francisco again later last month--to replace the Confederate flag with the historic 33-star Fort Sumter garrison flag, donated to the city to celebrate the removal of the flag. Mayor Dianne Feinstein ordered that flag removed. Later, under recommendation of Wallace Levine, head of the Veterans Affairs Council, the Mayor agreed to fly the "California Hundred" flag, in honor of the first 100 California Volunteers who paid their way east to fight against slaveowners.

SO WHAT is all this flagwaving about? As far as political symbolism goes, the actions of Ritchie Bradley makes a strong example for Sparts to point to and prove that they are not just Marxist political rhetoric. The incident in San Francisco will join ranks with the Sparticists' rally in Washington November of 1982 to stop the Klan from marching, and the fight on the University of Mississippi campus to ban the Confederate flag there.

The flag incident will help the Spartacus League in their attempt to represent a political alternative. They do not support Republicans or Democrats or the Progressive Labor Party or any other practitioner of "bourgeois politics." The difference between the Sparts and other political organizations is that while others work for reform within the existing political framework, the Sparts wish to overthrow that existing system.

No wonder then that they are hated. Who would want to overthrow this fine American system? Can you imagine life without capitalism? Without social, political and economic inequality? Without greed, opportunism, or racism? Would we all be speaking Russian after such a revolution? Is there any hope that American society will change?

One history professor recently noted in a lecture that minority groups historically excluded from the system have typically fought to become included. The recent increase in Black voter registration is one noticable example. At the same time, in striving to gain greater participatory rights for themselves, these groups have expanded the base of the very system they were once excluded from.

The mainstream options available to Americans today--to become a Republican or Democrat--seem particularly limiting in light of the slim pickings remaining after presidential primaries. The distinction between both parties blurs when one considers that Democrats--the so-called party of the have-nots--have historically led this country into war; wars fought by the same "have-nots" the Democrats claim to serve.

Communism may not be the answer. But the existence of the Spartacus League and its derivatives magnifies the realization that the spectrum of conceivable political options should be expanded.

The Sparts are optimistic ideologues who believe that American society will experience revolutionary change, much more significant than the Civil War. The anti-Spart mentality that accompanies their existence on campus shows that American society is not ready for any from of revolution.

Yet they remain undaunted, in their own obnoxious, agitational, annoying way preparing for revolution:

We stand in the revolutionary tradition of the anti-slavery fighters John Brown and Frederick Douglass. To complete the finished demoratic tasks of the Civil War, we look to the multi-racial American working class. In this period of imperialist decay, there is no longer a radical or "progressive" wing of the capitalist ruling class; the whole system stands squarely counterposed to Black freedom. Forward to the Third American Revolution, a proletarian revolution by a Trotskyist vanguard party with a strong black leadership component. Finish the Civil War--for Black Liberation in a workers' America!!!!

I added the last four exclamation points, because the language seemed to call for it.

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