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Proletarian Unity League

“It’s Not the Bus”: Busing and the Democratic Struggle in Boston, 1974-1975


This pamphlet has a limited objective. Our chief aim is to present an outline history of the first year of the Boston busing struggle. In the course of this history–which treats the main events–we will analyze some of the work of the communist movement, although we do not focus on our own limited work experience. Our intention is to contribute to constructing a concrete framework for further discussion.

This pamphlet does not provide an exhaustive analysis of busing. To do that would call for a careful history of the struggles around working-class education and desegregation in particular in Boston, a detailed assessment of the class forces supporting and opposing it, and a general discussion of the significance of busing for the working-class struggle. This pamphlet also does not make an elaborate political defense of communist work within the desegregation movement itself, nor does it focus on criticizing those who oppose such work. We hope to take up some of these important tasks in other papers, but they are beyond the scope of this pamphlet. We chose this present approach to the busing question above all because the time has passed for long dissertations on busing which make no reference to or even falsify the actual course of this complex struggle.

For example, groups who believe that the monopoly bourgeoisie instituted a “sham reform” to co-opt the oppressed nationalities’ struggles, cut the educational budget, and “inflame racial tension” never explain and overlook the loss of direction which all bourgeois forces experienced in Boston from December 1974 to February 1975. In this pamphlet we attempt to analyze what happened in that period – the state of the struggle, the contradictions within the opposing political forces, why the crisis of direction occurred, what the M-L forces did at this crucial point, how the crisis was resolved. Similarly, we attempt to analyze some of the main twists and turns, initiatives and retreats, gains and losses, alliances and conflicts, at work within the first year of busing in Boston. In doing this we intend to facilitate discussion, whether it be on particular questions – like the missed initiatives of the midwinter crisis – or on the general question of busing.

Since many Marxist-Leninist and other revolutionary groups have completely opposed the busing plan, we will begin by briefly laying out our general orientation towards the issues involved in busing, and to indicate the nature of our response to several of the usual reasons given for opposing busing.

Bourgeois and Proletarian Approaches to Forced Segregation

Based on the national oppression of the Black people, the many Native American peoples, and the national and colonial oppression of Puerto Rico, Mexico, Asia, and the Third World generally, the U.S. bourgeoisie has drawn a “color line” across the country, a “color line” which divides the house of labor. As communists dedicated to the overthrow of U.S. white-supremacist bourgeois rule, we stand for the complete destruction of the “color line”, the ending of all national oppression, the abolition of every white-skin privilege:

The class-conscious worker will answer the bourgeoisie–there is only one solution to the national problem (insofar as it can, in general, be solved in the capitalist world, the world of profit, squabbling, and exploitation), and that solution is consistent democracy. ...The national programme of working-class democracy is: absolutely no privileges for any one nation or any one language; the solution of the problem of the political self-determination of nations, that is, their separation as states by completely free, democratic methods... [Lenin, “Critical Remarks on the National Question,” LCW 20, p. 22]

We therefore support every move, initiated from whatever source, which weakens any aspect of white supremacist bourgeois rule, and fight to broaden and deepen every reform, no matter how half-hearted, which challenges any point on the “color line”.

Again, to quote Lenin:

The class-conscious workers combat all national oppression and all national privileges, but they do not confine themselves to that. They combat all, even the most refined, nationalism, and advocate not only the unity, but also the amalgamation of the workers of all nationalities in the struggle against reaction and against bourgeois nationalism in all its forms. Our task is not to segregate nations, but to unite the workers of all nations. Our banner does not carry the slogan ’national culture’ but international culture, which unites all the nations in a higher, socialist unity, and the way to which is already being paved by the international amalgamation of capital... [LCW 19, p. 548]

We distinguish between amalgamation as discussed above, or what Lenin terms “voluntary integration of nations,” and forced assimilation. Like other problems of the national question, forced assimilation has two aspects, one relating to the oppressor nationality and the other to the oppressed nationalities. We oppose forced assimilation of the oppressed nationalities, which under conditions of white-supremacist bourgeois rule means the denial of the right of self-determination, forced migration from territorial homelands, the destruction of national culture, the suppression of national language, etc. However, where the oppressed nationalities opt for integration in some sphere of social life–be it education, housing, or whatever–the interests of the working class lie with either the voluntary integration, or, the forced integration of the oppressor nationality. This is a point of principle which all white opportunists try to dodge.

Interests of the Bourgeoisie

As the architect of national oppression, the bourgeoisie has imposed conditions of forcible segregation on the oppressed nationalities. For 350 years, the oppressed nationalities, sometimes joined by white workers and progressives, have waged an unremitting struggle against all aspects of national oppression and forced segregation. In the context of the development of U.S. capitalism, the class struggle has forced the bourgeoisie from time to time to remake some of its forced segregationist policies–to redraw the “color line” so as to imprint white-supremacist bourgeois rule ever more indelibly on the face of our land. No one can seriously believe that the bourgeoisie will ever or can ever abolish the “color line”. The ruling class cannot alter the historically-evolved form of rule. It can be forced, however, to make “alterations”. It can even be forced on the defensive.

The bourgeoisie rules over a heavily and increasingly multinational proletariat. Moreover, the bourgeoisie has broad concerns to protect: the uninterrupted and ever-expanded reproduction of capitalist production. The lieutenants of the bourgeoisie in the labor movement and the government, as well as the lesser bourgeoisie, do not have the same “all-sided” view of their historic mission as the ruling bourgeoisie themselves. Therefore, they frequently miss the necessity of introducing reforms necessary to the “equilibrium” of the system.

The partial desegregation of schools through the forced busing of Black and white students constitutes one such reform. Obviously, it defines the segregation of schools from a white-supremacy perspective: the bourgeoisie defines a segregated school as one which has over 50% “non-white” enrollment. White enrollments exceeding 50% do not constitute a segregated school. But nonetheless the so-called busing plan in Boston does reform a few of the historically-evolved aspects of Jim Crow in a Northern school system.

There is no argument but that the bourgeois has undertaken these reforms in its own interest: Busing for partial desegregation has a series of advantages, all of which represent its forced assimilationist aspect: (1) it defuses the Black struggle around the desegregation of schools; (2) it breaks up large concentrations of oppressed nationality students, and therefore pressure for large concentrations of oppressed nationality teachers and administrators; it therefore allows for potentially greater monopoly bourgeois intervention into the Black, Latin, Asian, and Caribbean peoples’ educational process; (3) it can serve to curtail or eliminate certain educational programs in native languages or about national culture and history.

In Boston, the monopoly bourgeoisie, represented by the Boston banking group and the large insurance and industrial concerns, has local scores to settle as well: (1) through the busing plan, it hopes to destroy the last refuge of the Irish political machine, which controls the School Committee; this machine serves the interests of the non-monopoly, or “local” bourgeoisie, petit-bourgeoisie, and labor aristocracy; (2) behind the busing plan, the bourgeoisie has instituted a series of cutbacks in the educational budget; (3) the takeover of education by the monopoly bourgeoisie will allow a restructuring of the educational apparatus more in line with a “new Boston”, a banking, insurance, governmental, educational and service center “serving the nation”. In the past few years, Boston has come to depend increasingly on professional and skilled service workers trained outside of Massachusetts, producing a huge “out-of-state” residency.

Such are the stakes of the bourgeoisie in busing.

Interests of the Proletariat

The revolutionary proletariat stands for the destruction of segregation by any means necessary. At the same time, as the advocate of the most consistent and most revolutionary democracy, the proletariat must uphold the right of self-determination for oppressed nationalities. In the Boston busing struggle, we understand these obligation: as follows: (1) to support the right of the oppressed nationalities to work anywhere they choose, live anywhere they choose, and to go to school anywhere they choose, in safety; (2) to oppose all assimilationist aspects of the busing plan as they apply to the oppressed nationalities. Concretely, this means support for schooling in one’s native language, courses about one’s native culture and history (obviously, children of the oppressor nationality need instruction about the internationalist aspects of the culture and history of the oppressed nationalities as well); it also means safeguarding the right to community control of schools by opposing the closure of large numbers of Black schools by the plan; (3) to support the voluntary integration, and where not possible, the forced integration of oppressor nationality children in the interests of the working class as a whole. We resolutely oppose the pretense that forced integration of white children in a white-supremacist society represents any denial of “democratic rights” to white people.

We reject every claim to “white rights”, whether cloaked in the “right to neighborhood schools,” the “right to our children”, the “right to neighborhood identity”, or whatever. We work to expose the policies of the bourgeoisie, its posture as a “democratic force”, and its real role as a modernizer of white-supremacist bourgeois rule over the multinational proletariat. We also oppose any cutbacks to education, although this is to a large extent a separate matter.

Some communist forces and other revolutionary groups, as well as some Trotskyists, oppose this perspective. In later documents we intend to take up their objections at length, and indicate the erroneous bases of their thinking in this matter. For now, we will merely outline the responses we make to the major criticisms:

1. “The Boston Forced Busing Plan. . . objectively splits the whole working class,” and ”this tactic has served to whip up hatred along racial lines,” and therefore revolutionaries should oppose it.

The U.S. Terroristic National Oppression and Forced Segregation Plan has divided the working class for centuries. The U.S. Forced “Color Line” plan runs the length and breadth of the country. When the oppressed nationalities cross the “color line”, lots of people, including some white workers get upset. Any Ku Klux Klan member can tell you that there’s no trouble when the Black people stay in their place. This argument can be dragged out, and has been, to oppose every struggle for democratic rights, whether by the oppressed nationalities or by women. It says nothing about whether or not we should support the busing plan.

2. The bourgeoisie is behind the busing plan and therefore we have to oppose it. One group proudly announced, “We have to inform the OL and Guardian that corporate interests are deeply entrenched in the Boston school system and the current busing plan.” [Workers Viewpoint, Vol. 2, #1, p, 53] Adopting the William Domhoff “power-structure research” methodology made famous by the New Left, many people have recognized that the monopoly bourgeoisie proposed the busing plan.

True enough, but again, so what? “In politics it is not so important who directly advocates particular views, What is important is who stands to gain from these views, proposals, measures?” [LCW 19, p.53] The bourgeoisie, or rather a section of it, always proposes reforms. After all, we live under capitalism, and all reforms are reforms of bourgeois rule (i.e. bourgeois reforms). As we indicated above, the monopoly bourgeoisie has definite reasons for proposing this reform. As we also indicated, the proletariat has definite reasons for supporting aspects of this reform.

“Corporate interests” are also “deeply entrenched” in compulsory public education for all children under 16. Should we therefore oppose compulsory public education, since the bourgeoisie administers it?[1]

3. The bourgeoisie has “distorted” this particular reform in its own interests to weaken the revolutionary movement, and therefore we should oppose it.

“As the revolutionary vanguard, communists must be able to distinguish true concessions that reflect the genuine needs and demands of the people from concessions that have been distorted by the bourgeoisie to weaken the revolutionary movement.” [WV, p. 53] The bourgeoisie never has and never will grant any “pure reforms” which it institutes in order to build the revolutionary movement. Whoever is waiting for the bourgeoisie to give up and grant “true concessions” to the revolutionaries without thought of its own self-interest has repudiated the struggle for reforms entirely. Anarchists and subjective idealists who dream of the True Concession will never win any actual concessions from the bourgeoisie. For every reform represents a compromise between the needs of a section of the bourgeoisie to maintain some semblance of social equilibrium and what the entire bourgeoisie refuses to do: strengthen the revolutionary movement:

The liberal bourgeoisie grants reforms with one hand, and with the other always takes them back, reduces them to nought, uses them to enslave the workers, to divide them into separate groups and perpetuate wage-slavery...The stronger reformist influence is among the workers, the weaker they are, the greater their dependence on the bourgeoisie, and the easier it is for the bourgeoisie to nullify reforms by various subterfuges, The more independent the working-class movement, the deeper and broader its aims, and the freer it is from reformist narrowness the easier it is for the workers to retain and utilise improvements. [LCW 19, pp. 372-3]

Therefore because no mass movement ever advocated exactly this reform (the court-ordered desegregation plan in Boston) does not mean the reform itself is illusory. It merely indicates that the bourgeoisie chose its moment carefully in instituting a particular reform of a particular aspect of white-supremacist bourgeois rule. It chose a moment when it could tailor almost every aspect of a necessary reform to its needs, precisely because of the weakness or absence of a mass movement.

The same reform may reflect certain “genuine needs and demands of the people” as well as certain “genuine needs and demands of the bourgeoisie”. In fact, most reforms do so. Whether the reform ultimately will result in the strengthening or the weakening of the revolutionary movement depends not on whether the revolutionaries oppose this or that reform, but on the extent to which they educate the movement on how to take advantage of the reform while not confusing reform with revolution. This much we know beforehand: abstention from the reform struggle in the anticipation of “pure reforms” and “true concessions” will doom the revolutionary movement to its present sect-like status.

4. The bourgeoisie uses the busing plan to drive a wedge in the proletarian fight for better schools and against cutbacks in education resources. Therefore we should oppose the busing plan:

“The government” has been chopping down education funds, and all working class public schools, white and Black, are going down the drain. But through its forced busing plan, the government pits poor whites against poor blacks, and while they fight each other the government gets off scot free. [WV Supplement, June/July 1975]

We agree that the bourgeoisie has combined educational cutbacks with the busing plan. But the two remain radically distinct. Partial desegregation through forced busing represents a political reform; educational cutbacks form a part of a more generalized bourgeois offensive against the working class standard of living, In other words, because educational cutbacks accompany desegregation does not make partial desegregation itself an educational cutback. Attempts to merge the political and economic demands in a single confused slogan (WV: “Demand that the Government Provide Quality Education for All, Especially National Minorities;” RU: “Decent Education for All;” or “Defend the Right of All Children to a Decent Education”) reflect this economist approach to the democratic struggle. Against all forms of economism, the revolutionary proletariat recognizes the great truth that “politics dictate to economics.” In the busing struggle, this means that the fight for consistent democracy, against all privileges or inequalities, commands the struggle for a generalized expansion of educational resources. Even in the busing struggle, it’s necessary to put politics in command.

5. In the form of the busing plan, the bourgeoisie has instituted a policy of forced dispersion and forced assimilation or oppressed nationality concentrations. Therefore, we should oppose the plan.

This is by far the most serious objection to the busing plan. As we have indicated, the busing plan has a number of features which serve forced assimilationist and forced dispersionist objectives of the bourgeoisie. The definition of a segregated school as one having more than a 50% “non-white” enrollment reflects this aspect from jump. At the same time, partial desegregation through forced busing contains two other reforms which progressives must support:

1) It implements the right of Black people and other oppressed nationalities to attend previously predominantly white schools. All revolutionary democrats must stand for this right of the oppressed nationalities to live anywhere, work anywhere, go to school anywhere, socialize anywhere and with anyone, etc. Many parents’ struggles of the ’fifties and ’sixties advanced this principle under the demand for open enrollment. For a number of reasons, open enrollment cannot and historically has not aided the desegregation of schools to any measurable extent. Boston has had open enrollment for ten years, and most of the openly-racist School Committee members support it. In this situation, it is opportunist and ridiculous to raise the slogan of the right of oppressed nationality schoolchildren to attend the school of their choice–a right we fully support–without at the same time supporting forced busing of white to predominantly Black or Latin Schools.[2] That “right” already exists, abstractly. The point is that unless large numbers of oppressed nationality students go to some school, they will have no representation within the educational process, and few parents will opt to send their children there. Such a situation would bring assimilationist pressures to bear on the students. But if many oppressed nationality students come to a school, then significant numbers of white students have to leave. And this brings us to the second aspect of the busing reform worthy of support:

2) The suppression of “white right” in the interests of equality and democracy. To be sure, that suppression is partial, as is that equality and democracy, Nonetheless, partial desegregation through forced busing advances this principle, as the character of the anti-busing movements demonstrates. In this situation, revolutionaries have the duty to go among the white working class and convince them that their class interests lie with consistent, proletarian democracy. Moreover, they must explain that consistent democracy demands support not only for the right of oppressed nationalities to go to previously white schools, but also the suppression of white-skin privileges clothed in the right-wing libertarian rhetoric of “alienated (white) rights”.

For the above reasons, we believe the present Boston busing plan deserves critical support at this time. That plan provides some of the conditions for furthering the struggle against national oppression and segregation. This particular position does not justify critical support for busing in all circumstances.

While upholding the right of oppressed nationality children to be bused, we oppose the Metco program in Boston, and the “metropolitinization” of busing in Boston as well. In the former case–a program of voluntary busing of small numbers of Black students to many all-white suburban schools–we believe the forced assimilationist and forced dispersionist aspects predominate. The Metco program does not entail reciprocal busing of white students. The “metropolitinization” of busing (sometimes known as the Kerrigan plan, names after John Kerrigan, the most outrageously racist member of the Boston School Committee) calls for massive busing of Black students to many suburban communities with no reciprocal busing. The liberal bourgeoisie briefly rallied behind this concept in Boston in January of 1975, adding the busing of “some whites” to give the semblance of even-handedness. Our reasons for opposing the plan are the same as for the Metco program.

These distinctions suggest to us that partial desegregation through forced busing only deserves support in limited geographical areas where the oppressed nationalities form a large percentage of the population and where the resulting school populations will at least reflect the overall national composition. In cities or rural areas where Black people or other oppressed nationalities constitute a small percentage of the population, this sort of rough guideline will not apply, since the result would be small minorities within many schools.

At the same time, progressives must support the right of the oppressed nationalities to choose busing, community control, or some mixture of the two. For example, this means the oppressed nationalities have the right to boycott the busing process, while the whites do not. Educational provisions have to be made for those students who do not wish to be bused. As a long-term solution to equality and democracy within the educational process, however, we have serious doubts about the viability of community control.


[1] This is not an academic point. Several anarchist collectives in the Boston area have taken up the slogan, “No Forced School.” which these ’friends of the people’ spray-paint across the city. Why do communist groups like RU and WVO use such an anarchist argument?

[2] The October League presentation at the Boston Busing Forum in November 1974 hedged on the forced busing of whites. In practice, opposing or not supporting the forced busing of whites is tantamount to opposing the right of oppressed nationality children to go to the school of their choice. With the OL in particular, this unwillingness to abide by the consequences of a thoroughgoing democracy accounts for much of their vacillation on the national question.