Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League

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

5. Dec.-Mar., 1975: Liberal “Compromises”

The stabbing of Michael Faith in South Boston High on December 9 brought the first stage of the struggle to an end. It was the unwillingness of the liberal bourgeoisie to control the ABM in South Boston that brought on the provocations in the first place, but now they acted quickly, closing down the South Boston/Roxbury school district, although no incidents of any importance had taken place in Roxbury. And they threatened to keep the district closed permanently.

This move, and the series of “compromises” that followed from it, usher in the second phase of struggle. In this stage, the liberal bourgeoisie was struggling to contain the advance of the democratic forces, by enforcing some form of “compromise” more closely resembling their traditional form of segregation. Moreover, the high vote received in the November elections by Kahian, the American Party candidate for Governor, demonstrated to the liberal bourgeoisie a growing and threatening disaffection of their white base.

But as to the new form that such a compromise might assume, the liberal bourgeoisie was in an objective “fix.” On the one hand, they could not continue to permit open action to the democratic movement; the advance of the fall was a definite step against traditional segregationist policies. On the other hand, they could not simply give in to the ABM (what many leftists call acting as a “liberal cover for fascism”). To do so would deprive them of the ability to act as the political “representatives” of the “whole people,” one of the canons of bourgeois democracy. Further, simply to give in to the ABM would strengthen the traditional patronage system and right-wing challengers generally.

The terms of the compromise would be some form of integration, but integration on an even more limited, strictly assimilationist basis. In the various compromise proposals, the liberal bourgeoisie moved simultaneously against the right to attend any school (true of the “neutral sites” and Metropolitanization plans) and against suppression of “white right” (true of “neutral sites” plan, to some extent of the Metro plan, and, with the exclusion of East Boston, to some extent of the Masters Plan and Phase II itself). Such a plan would win over some of the “moderate” forces in the ABM (who favored just such a type of integration) while isolating the right wing of the ABM. On the other flank, such a plan would also isolate the NAACP (which was vulnerable to assimilationism) from the masses in the democratic movement (who would be without leadership). Finally, such a plan, they hoped, would win over large sections of the masses who favored safety and who believed that the only road to safety lay in the presence of large numbers of police in the schools and the general curtailment of democratic rights.

The first such “compromise” was the “neutral sites” plan put forward by Police Commissioner DiGrazia, who came forward with “secret information” about plans to disrupt the schools by “extremists on both sides.” He demanded that South Boston/Roxbury school district be kept closed, and that classes be conducted at integrated “neutral sites” such as the “Commonwealth Armory!” This plan, which had circulated as long before as the summer of 1974, gained currency only as the splits in the ABM intensified to the point where the liberal bourgeoisie felt that the “moderates” in the ABM might be pliable to such a compromise. The proposal was quickly endorsed by Paul Parks, Mayor White, and other liberal elements.

It was hoped that this plan would accomplish token “integration” without the need for desegregating the white neighborhood schools. By creating educational “strategic hamlets,” the liberals hoped to win over the leaderships of both the ABM and the democratic movements at the expense of the masses.

Here the liberal bourgeoisie was reacting to the determined advance of the democratic movement and the desperation within the ABM which this had provoked. Rather than taking advantage of the serious splits in the ABM to destroy the Anti-Busing Movement, the liberal bourgeoisie moved to compromise with them and rebuild its white base. The plan was to reward stiff resistance by the most militant reactionaries by agreeing not to desegregate their neighborhood schools. This was dictated by two factors. First, they had to guard their role as representatives of the whole people. Second, the relative strength of the democratic forces imposed this compromise.

(Contrast this proposal with the Phase II plan for East Boston. Here the bourgeoisie rewarded stiff anti-busing resistance by virtually excluding that community from the plan. But in this case, instead of neutral sites, there was to be continued segregated neighborhood schools. By the time of Phase II, the relation of political forces had shifted in favor of the ABM and the monopoly bourgeoisie and against the democratic movement. Therefore, East Boston got a more favorable compromise).

It was significant that the left as a whole did not react to this plan. What the “neutral sites” plan called for was for the democratic movement to extend the arm of proletarian solidarity to the white workers in the ABM by exposing this plan for the attack it was. In the absence of this conscious maneuver, the resistance that did develop to this plan did nothing to build ties between the white workers in the ABM and the democratic movement.

There was, however, resistance to this plan and in the space of ten days, the “neutral sites” plan was vetoed by Garrity. Both the NAACP and the ABM called for the re-opening of the school district, while Hicks and Kerrigan were forced to oppose the plan in order to salvage their political careers in South Boston, All the same, Garrity instructed that sites be chosen and the option remain: “he left open the possibility he may do so, [i.e., implement this plan] in the future.” [Globe 1-3-75] The Globe too now lost interest in this plan. The next compromise plan was the “metropolitanization” scheme, also endorsed by a bevy of liberal elements. What this plan called for was the massive expansion of the METCO scheme whereby children of the oppressed nationalities would be bused in large numbers to suburban schools. In this way there would not be an “explosive” concentration of the oppressed nationalities at any one school. One difference between the “metropolitanization” plan and the METCO plan was that the new scheme called for the busing of “some whites” as well as the massive busing of the oppressed nationalities: “Support for suburban involvement comes from a political and philosophical spectrum that runs from suburban liberal to the Boston School Committee.” [Globe 2-4-75] The Globe reported that the plan would ”ultimately create 20,000 places.” After noting that the present plan involved 18,000 Black students, the Globe said, “to work properly, the plan ought to transfer substantial numbers of Blacks, as well as some whites from city to suburban schools.” [Boston Globe, 2-9-75 – our emphasis]

As with the “neutral sites” plan, the essence of this plan was that the white neighborhood schools would not be desegregated. But this time the entire burden of the plan would fall on the oppressed nationalities alone; they would be assimilated in an overwhelming mass of petit bourgeois and bourgeois suburban white students. The “metropolitanization” plan was more in line with traditional bourgeois-democratic white-supremacist rule: denial of political power and democratic rights to the oppressed nationalities; white-skin privileges aimed at the workers of the oppressor nationality. The logic of this plan was that it would win the support of the ABM “moderate” wing and their mass base, and it would isolate the consistently democratic forces within the democratic movement.

“Unfortunately,” this plan also met with a great deal of resistance. In the first place, it was unconstitutional, and while the violation of the Constitution is, as we have seen, not an insurmountable obstacle for the liberal bourgeoisie, nevertheless this made if difficult for the assimilationist forces within the democratic movement to embrace the plan; in fact, it drove them closer to the more democratic forces. This was just what the liberal bourgeoisie did not want.

In addition, the ABM was lukewarm about the plan. First of all, they were suspicious of how many white children would have to be bused, an uncertainty which the supporters of the plan did not clarify. And second of all, the suburban supporters of the ABM, who were important both financially and also as source of numbers for demonstrations, were unilaterally opposed to the plan. At this time, a number of suburban communities voted against affiliation with METCO, fearing that this would lead into the “metropolitanization” plan. And at the writing of this pamphlet, an organization has been formed in the suburbs specifically to resist metropolitanization.

Faced with the consolidated opposition of the democratic movement, and the lukewarm support of the ABM, the liberal bourgeoisie also abandoned this plan.

The third compromise attempted by the liberal bourgeoisie was the formation of the Masters’ Panel; of liberal “social control” experts. The Masters’ Plan had a number of advantages over the previous two plans, and in a modified form it was accepted by the court and by the entire liberal bourgeoisie.

First of all, the Masters’ Plan involved shutting down schools, but the schools were mainly in the communities of the oppressed nationalities. Then, the plan involved busing, but it was mostly busing of the oppressed nationalities into the white communities. The creation of the “magnet” school district showed some pliancy with the “quality” education plans put forward by the School Committee and the Home and School Association. Lastly, the Masters’ Plan put East Boston out of reach of the Constitution: there would be no forced busing out of that section, and little in.

The ABM opposed the plan–because of the “forced busing” involved–but they knew that it “could have been worse.” The unity of the liberals behind the plan impressed the ABM that no further compromise was possible.

More importantly, the NAACP was forced into accepting the plan. The liberals derided the NAACP plan through the media as a “numbers game,” since it was exclusively concerned with the percentages of different nationalities in the different schools. And yet the line between assimilationism and exercise of democratic rights depended on such a numbers game. The Masters’ proposal with its allowance of wide variance in composition within districts, suggested the possibility of many schools with too few oppressed nationality students for them or their parents to have any say in school policy.[1]

The court stressed the urgency of time in coming up with a plan (although later in the spring they did very little to “hurry up” the School Committee) in order to push the NAACP into accepting the Masters’ Plan (as modified by Garrity). And finally the NAACP, because of its unwillingness to -organize the democratic masses, was unsure of rallying their support to their own plan. The NAACP supported this final “compromise.”

The only force in the courtroom to oppose the Masters’ Plan was the Hispanic parents, who struggled to retain the bilingual school in the Hispanic community and against the dispersion of the Hispanic children called for in the new plan. This had much to do with the closer links that existed between the Hispanic masses and the courtroom struggle than those between the NAACP and the Afro-American masses, so that maneuvers of the liberals (e.g., attempting to divide the Hispanic national minority into “races,” Black and white) were easily discredited.

An important feature of the plan was the creation of multi-racial parents’ councils, to serve as a “belt of transmission” between the court and the masses in the various communities. Essentially these were court-ordered, democratically elected committees of parents at all levels in the school system. Unlike the CCC – a parallel School Committee of liberals appointed by the court to insure that the court orders were carried out – the parents’ councils were poorly defined as to function, and while Garrity intended them as “talk shops” to channel the struggles of both the reactionary and democratic masses along the lines of PTA’s in other cities, their ultimate significance was determined (and still is to be determined) by the attitude of the popular movements toward them.

So the close of the second stage of the struggle was the unification of the liberals around the Masters’ Plan (as modified), and the subordination of the democratic and reactionary movements to this new liberal “compromise.” The significance of this stage largely eluded the Left. Where in the fall they had failed to establish themselves within the democratic movement, now they lost another chance to expose the inconsistent democracy of the liberals and the assimilationists, a process which developed in the next stage into a liquidation of any particular work around busing at all.


[1] As if this were not enough, the Phase II plan originally stated that there must be at least sixty Hispanic and Asian students in a school before parents of these nationalities would be entitled to representation. Blacks and whites were entitled to one representative for every ten students. This harkens back to the days when the Constitution provided that Black slaves and Indians (who were denied the right to vote in any event) counted for three-fifths of a white man in the voting census.