Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Kyle Coffman

Coalition Politics and Bakke Committee Work

First Published: Modern Times, Vol. II, No. 7, July 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision, a coalition of various anti-racist forces, has played a leading role in mobilizing opposition to the Bakke Decision. Many regional NCOBD rallies have drawn thousands of supporters. At the Washington D.C. rally on April 15, there were at least 20,000. More significant than the actual numbers present at these rallies has been the broad community representation. People of different ethnic groups, occupations, politics, and economic backgrounds have united in their efforts to fight racism and defend affirmative action.

Coalition Politics

Within the left, there are different responses to coalition politics. Since coalitions lack explicit analysis, left sectarian groups oppose this type of politics. Members of these groups will “join” a united front with the aim of “purifying” its members and supporters. Sectarians hold the belief that work within a united front would compromise their revolutionary integrity and mislead the masses. However, a sizable and growing portion of the American left see united fronts as necessary to raising consciousness and to fighting the system of monopoly capitalism. The discussion among these leftists needs to be centered around the question of how to bring a radical analysis into united front work.

Below I will discuss the sectarian approach and its basic shortcomings as well as contribute to the discussion on how to approach united front politics, drawing on my experiences as a member of the NCOBD, Hawaii Chapter. The sectarian group we were faced with was the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB), the youth group of the Revolutionary Communist Party.

Most of the sectarian groups emerged out of the Civil Rights and anti-war movements of the 60’s. One of the major shortcomings of these movements was that they lacked a clear analysis of the cause of racism and of war. In fact, many of the leaders expressed the view that the American system is good and that it’s only a tragic: miscalculation by policy makers that brings about these conditions. Partially in response to this shortcoming and partially out of an over-zealous belief that conditions were ripe for revolution, Marxist-Leninist (many of whom came to their political perspective only through involvement in the struggles of the 60’s) formed various self-proclaimed M-L groups, each aiming to become the “vanguard” or guiding force of the Revolution.

Instead of taking a dialectical approach of study, discussion, mass work, and criticism-self-criticism in formulating their political line, strategy and tactics, these groups tend to use an elitist approach of unquestioningly following a line formulated by a few leaders. Instead of guiding people through attempts to gain reforms and consolidate the lessons of personal experience, they usually substitute preaching at them. Their means are primarily propaganda (usually rhetorical, with little substance) and agitation. Their tactics serve to isolate themselves.

RCYB’s False Unity

The practice of the RCYB was to profess unity with the NCOBD but to do little work and to use our meetings as a forum to discuss anti-capitalism. A few months after our chapter was formed, an article in the Revolution–the RCP newspaper–called the NCOBD “reactionary,” “reformist,” and “ridiculous” and stated that we had the incorrect line. On the one hand, RCYB expressed unity with the article and refused to stop selling that issue of the paper, and, on the other hand, claimed to still be members of our chapter.

A resolution was passed In the Steering Committee saying that RCYB should be expelled and an emergency meeting was held to discuss the resolution. With almost its entire membership present, RCYB stacked the meeting. They distributed a position paper which attacked certain members of the Steering Committee, stated that we weren’t revolutionary enough, and, in the same paper, expressed loyalty to NCOBD. They appealed to the sense of liberal democracy of the unaffiliated, newly involved people–the middle forces of the Committee–by claiming that the Steering Committee was trying to suppress free speech. The meeting ended with more confusion than clarity, and with RCYB still as members of the chapter.

Damaging Effects

The struggle with RCYB had damaging effects on our chapter. From the time of our formation, there were undercurrents of strife which grew stronger until the Revolution article brought their culmination. Aside from hampering the mobilization work, this strife discouraged many of the middle forces. Right after the struggle broke out, our chapter grew smaller. Many of the middle forces dropped out.

However, RCYB’s sectarianism continued. For the April 8th demonstration, RCYB decided to put out their own leaflet instead of helping us distribute the NCOBD leaflet. Their leaflet centered around the slogan “fight imperialism” and did not even mention the NCOBD. It appeared as though the RCYB were calling the rally and that its unity was anti-imperialism. Alter being criticized for this, they put out another leaflet with the phrase “called by NCOBD” just under the anti-imperialist slogans and just above the call to the rally. This time they made it appear as though the NCOBD were calling for an anti-imperialist rally. A policy was passed that at the rally all signs and banners must reflect the united front and that only NCOBD material could be passed out during the rally. But nevertheless, RCYB brought to the rally placards and a banner with anti-imperialist slogans, and armbands which they told people to wear. The idea behind the distribution of armbands (which had an RCYB slogan on them) was to make it appear as though RCBY were leading the rally. Several days after the rally they were voted out of the chapter by the members of the working committee.

RCYB’s tactic of capitalizing on the mobilization work of others is an indication of their inability to mobilize on their own. For the April 8th rally, the NCOBD succeeded in bringing out not only activists who usually come to demonstrations but also other people from different sectors of the community. Among the groups represented were the YWCA, the National Organization for Women, the Samoan Action Movement of America, the Ethnic Studies Program at the I’ll, and the NAACP. All the organizations and individuals at the rally shared in their anger at the Bakke Decision and its implications for minorities and women. If RCYB had organized for the rally, the unity and agitation would have centered around anti-capitalism and only a small number of leftists would have shown up.

The system of monopoly capitalism cannot be successfully fought by a small group of people no matter how “pure” their views are. It is of utmost importance to broaden the Movement, to get as many people as possible in motion against the various forms of oppression. Direct experience serves as one very important factor in political education. As Lenin stated in his essay, Left Wing Communism–An Infantile Disorder:

Victory cannot be won with a vanguard alone. To throw only the vanguard into the decisive battle, before the entire class, the broad masses, have taken up a position either of direct support for the vanguard, or at least sympathetic neutrality towards it and of precluded support for the enemy, would be not merely foolish but criminal. Propaganda and agitation alone are not enough for an entire class, the broad masses of the working people, those oppressed by capital, to take such a stand. For that, the masses must have their own political experience.

Implicit in the sectarian’s purist approach to politics is the mechanistic notion that all compromises are incorrect. Lenin, in his essay on Left-Wing Communism and in some of his other works, points out the difference between a principled compromise, one which creates necessary alliances and brings more people into the front, and between a bad compromise, which pushes back the revolutionary cause. The approach of these sectarian groups has succeeded in isolating them from the broad masses of people who need to be mobilized and from other left and progressive forces.

Raising Consciousness

The question then arises, how docs one introduce a radical analysis into united front politics? To work toward answering this question, there needs to be much dialogue and sharing of experience among the left. Within the local NCOBD chapter, leftists have done a poor job of bringing a radical perspective to the anti-Bakke work. This is partially due to an over-reaction to the sectarianism of RCYB and partially because we did not know how to go about it. However, nationally the NCOBD has had a good approach to united front politics.

The practice of the NCOBD has been to keep the agitation and unity around the issues of overturning the Bakke Decision, fighting racism, and saving affirmative action, but in education efforts, to show very concretely the economic context of racism. This ensures the broadest possible participation in the front, but still results in a basic understanding of the issues at hand.

The charge has been made that the NCOBD has had a policy of relying on the courts and thus has not been giving a true picture of their role in the perpetuation of the socioeconomic system. It should be clear that the NCOBD has always concentrated on mobilizing the broad masses of people who are oppressed by racism–mainly working people. Most of these people are not clear on the type of role the courts play. Directing the demands to the courts (while warning against having faith in them) is necessary to the education process. When the courts fail to meet our full demands or act against us, they expose themselves. In the case of the Bakke Decision, the U.S. Supreme Court gave a negative ruling couched in diplomatic terms. This has caused much confusion among some anti-racist forces. But it’s a matter of education work and lime before it becomes clear that the high court has legitimized racism.

At this point two of the main tasks facing the left are finding a basis for working together and pulling more people into the Movement. Consciousness-raising is a gradual process which must be seen in the context of political experience.

We must not be fooled by the simple formulas and purism of the sectarians. The correct approach to united front politics will emerge as the result of a dialectical process, our dialogue with one another, as we sum up our successes and failures.