Workers Vanguard No. 1130

23 March 2018


Confederate Flag in Dianne Feinstein’s Attic

With racist thugs on the march to defend Confederate monuments in the South, cheered on by “states’ rights” Republican officeholders, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, a grande dame of the Democratic Party, is having a light shined on her own embrace of the Confederate flag of slavery in the bluest city of the blue State of California. Colin Kalmbacher recounted in a February 27 article on the Law & Crime website that as San Francisco mayor in 1984, Feinstein not only flew the Confederate battle flag at the city’s Civic Center but oversaw the prosecution of Richard Bradley, the black worker and Spartacist League supporter who tore down that flag. The story, based in part on coverage in Workers Vanguard at the time, was picked up in a March 4 video post by Cenk Uygur on the left-liberal “Young Turks” website.

On 15 April 1984, clad in the Civil War uniform of a Union Army soldier, Bradley scaled a 50-foot flagpole and ripped down the Confederate flag that had flown for years at Civic Center, where Feinstein’s City Hall offices were located. At ground level, what was left of the flag was burned by a General Executive Board member of International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6 amid jubilant cheers and a chorus of the anti-slavery anthem “John Brown’s Body” from the crowd of black people, trade unionists and socialists. Black people in the Bay Area welcomed the victory as their own, glad to be rid of the banner of the KKK and other homegrown fascists who have carried out lynch rope terror for the past 150 years. Ritchie was a local hero, with people buying him a drink or meal wherever he went.

Feinstein ordered the slaveholders’ banner to rise again—a racist provocation that came a day after the acquittal of a KKK/Nazi death squad that had gunned down five leftists, civil rights activists and union organizers in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1979. Hours later, Bradley, surrounded by SL supporters, once again scaled the flagpole and that flag was torn to pieces. Arrested twice on vandalism charges, Bradley climbed the flagpole a third time in order to put up a replica of the Union garrison flag that flew over Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor when Confederate forces fired the opening shots of the Civil War. Demonstrating anew her scorn for those who fought to smash slavery, Feinstein vindictively ordered the Union flag that Bradley had hoisted to be removed and shredded.

Bradley was put on trial, which ended on June 4 of that year with a hung jury (eight for acquittal). Shaking Bradley’s hand, one juror exclaimed, “I would have done it if I had the guts.” Attempting to avoid further embarrassment, a week later Feinstein’s district attorney moved to dismiss all other charges.

But Dixie Dianne wouldn’t let it rest. At the end of June, she raised the “Stars and Bars,” the first flag of the Confederacy, on the same flagpole. In the early morning hours of June 29, anti-racist militants not only took down that flag of slavery but also felled the pole. As Kalmbacher observed, “No Confederate flag flew at San Francisco City Hall ever again.”

Uygur and Kalmbacher both note that at the time Feinstein, who was in the running for the Democratic vice presidential nomination, was seeking to curry favor with the Dixiecrats; the Democratic National Convention was due to begin in SF three months later. Feinstein’s gambit failed. The Democrats instead chose Geraldine Ferraro to break ground as the first woman candidate for vice president on a major party ticket. Representing a white enclave in Queens, New York, in Congress, Ferraro not only joined Southern conservatives in pushing school prayer but supported a constitutional amendment to ban busing for school integration. Feinstein would go on to rise to the pinnacle of the Democratic Party establishment, as an advocate of the racist death penalty and Bill Clinton’s anti-crime bills, which accelerated mass incarceration and gutted habeas corpus rights, as well as the war on Iraq, and NSA domestic spying.

While welcoming the new publicity, we recognize the Young Turks have no intention of promoting the SL’s Marxist program, which sees the fight for black freedom as central to the fight for workers power in the U.S. Rather, inspired by Bernie Sanders, Uygur & Co. invoked the Ritchie Bradley story as part of their efforts to refurbish the Democratic Party of exploitation, racial oppression and war by going after the likes of Feinstein and the Clintons. (Uygur ultimately supported Hillary after she secured the Democratic presidential nomination.) On February 24, Feinstein, who is up for re-election, received the support of a paltry 37 percent of delegates at the annual state Democratic Party convention while her “progressive” opponent Kevin de León won 54 percent. For his part, Sanders, who steers clear of opposing pillars of the Democratic Party establishment, has declared that the senatorial nomination is a matter for California voters to decide.

For those repulsed by the racism, sexism, xenophobia and war synonymous with capitalism, we suggest not wasting efforts on trying to reform the party of the Confederacy, Bay of Pigs and Vietnam. Ritchie Bradley wore the uniform of a Union soldier to underscore that it took a second American revolution, the Civil War, to end slavery, and it will take a third, socialist American revolution to attain full equality for black people. Join us in the task of building the workers party necessary to lead this fight. Finish the Civil War!