Beginning in 2000, this color, once associated with leftist movements, was subjected by media operatives to a complete reversal of its erstwhile subversive coding. “Red” designated states whose voting patterns and alleged “cultural values” marked them as right-wing, in contrast to “blue” states, identified as “liberal.” Exemplifying the power of media-fueled Newspeak, this semantic makeover quickly gained currency and acceptance. Historically, however, reclaiming “red” for radicalism is no simple matter. There are the red cockade of the sans-culottes, the red flag brandished as an insurgent symbol of the blood of the working class, and the red card of IWW militants, but also the Red bureaucracy of which Bakunin warned: a dictatorship over the proletariat. Such was the Russian Revolution’s outcome: red became the color of the terror carried out initially against the revolution’s enemies and subsequently against revolutionaries. Stalinism, terror triumphant, was characterized as Red Fascism by disillusioned leftists. Post-revolutionary China claimed the entire East was red, yet red also became a floating signifier of government orthodoxy; dissenters were accused of waving the red flag to oppose the red flag. For capitalists, Red scares, Red squads, and Red-baiting were used to contain and repress all forms of radicalism. And following the collapse of bureaucratic Communism, wars in Yugoslavia saw the emergence of red-brown coalitions of fascists and Communists perpetrating massacres and concentration camps. Paul Robeson’s gibe at the U.S. government’s inability to tolerate his being both Black and Red provides further dimension. Conspicuously absent from the red-blue bifurcation of the U.S. polity is that other color of the national flag: white, a sign of a continuing racial domination meant to be ignored or accepted, never challenged. Here, Jean-Jacques Dessalines’ victorious action upon Haiti’s independence stands out: slashing the white stripe from the French tricolor, he united red and blue under a new social and symbolic order.
Christopher Winks, originally published in XCP 15/16 (2005)