Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Proletarian Unity League

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

7. Conclusion: Phase II.

What has been the outcome of the struggle over Phase I? We have stressed the tactics applied by the various forces in the year of busing, but what did these tactics lead to? Have any of the forces advanced toward their strategic goal?

For the ABM, there have been some successes and some setbacks. On the one hand, the ABM was unable to prevent the execution of the busing plan, and could not promise that it would be able to prevent more extensive busing under Phase II. The moderates had believed that their tactics would force the liberals to put an end to the busing plan, and the struggles of Phase I showed that they were wrong. Not only were the liberals unwilling to keep the oppressed nationalities out of the white schools, but they were finally forced to provide massive police protection for the opening of Phase II. The ABM was unable to call for a white boycott as they had last year. This was partly a maneuver to avoid charges of conspiracy from the Federal government, but in part it reflects a changed relation of forces in the white communities of Boston. Many parents were unwilling to continue to deny any education to their children, and many children and youth have disobeyed their parents and gone to school. There has been a white boycott this year, and in some sections of the city (Charlestown, whites bused into the Black community) it has been effective. But, unlike last year, there is also widespread opposition.

On the other hand, the ABM is more organized in the white communities than it was last year. Under the hegemony of more hardline elements, ROAR has consolidated some of its tactical victories organizationally, with more members, a better financial base, and expansion into communities other than Boston and into the trade-union movement (more reactionary unions, like the Sheetmetal Workers, have ROAR nuclei which did not exist last year.) In addition, the ABM continues to have tactical flexibility and skill that permits them to adapt themselves quickly to changes in the struggle. They concentrate themselves to attack one particular school by means of politicians, peaceful demonstrations, agitation and propaganda, and violence, then disperse to “create an atmosphere” of racial attacks on Black, Hispanic, and Asian people throughout the city. When the white boycott begins to pale (no pun intended), they raise a storm in the media and the courts about “white flight.” And so on.

The main thing that will weaken the ABM through the course of the year is that they are weakened – like any reactionary movement – by internal struggle. This is not an automatic process. The ABM will not fall under its own weight, nor will masses of white people spontaneously desert the ABM. Two key tasks exist for the democratic forces. The first is the organization of exposures of the ABM, exposures which follow the ABM through every turn of the struggle, analyzing what they are trying to achieve, why it is reactionary, and how it can be combated. This task can be carried out only when the organizations in the democratic movement realize that it must be done, only when we begin to abandon the unexamined conviction that the masses of workers already understand the class nature of the ABM and get down to the business of explaining our understandings to them.

The second task is mastering forms of struggle that bring the democratic movement into the white communities. This is not at all easy, but it must be done. One important example of this is the struggle to make liberal organs like the bi-racial parents’ councils tribunes of the democratic movement. This can only be done by encouraging workers and other sections of the people to take part in them, and by taking part in them ourselves.

Another example of decisive importance was the demonstration at Carson’s Beach. Here was a militant demonstration of the Black masses and some white supporters showing clearly to white people that the ABM was a racist movement and that the struggle was not a struggle over busing but a struggle over the rights of Black people on a broad front. It focused attention in the Black community on the white-supremacist nature of the police, and exposed the NAACP as a force unable to struggle with them. It forced the liberals to use the police much better at the beginning of Phase II than they did at the beginning of Phase I (police were concentrated in the white community this fall, and acted in more resolute way against white mobs than they did last year). It is only by opening up the white communities as a front of struggle that gains can be made against the ABM.

The democratic forces also had some successes and some setbacks. The successes could be summed up by saying that the democratic masses were able to use the busing plan to further the struggle for democratic rights. The democratic movement refused to be stopped from going to school, both in the white community and in the Black community (especially white parents who violated the white boycott in the face of substantial intimidation). The democratic movement has won certain modest gains in the realm of police protection of school children from racist mobs, although homeowners, passersby in the white communities, workers on their way to work, etc., are still unprotected by police, and police still act as a “colonial” force in the Black, Hispanic, and Asian communities. The Black community has won more equality of educational resources with white schools, even though many schools in the Black community are shut down under Phase II (And even though the democratic movement has been unable to defend bilingual and bi-cultural programs against the attacks of the liberals and the ABM). The democratic movement has won a great seriousness in its own ranks about fighting for education and fighting to improve education, and has taken new steps in emancipating itself from political bondage to the liberal bourgeoisie. The NAACP has been isolated to some extent, as have bourgeois-assimilationist forces in the Hispanic and Asian communities. These are great gains for the democratic movement.

At the same time, the democratic movement has failed to consolidate these gains organizationally and ideologically. For example, although many advanced workers were angry about the NAACP’s lack of leadership at Carson’s Beach, they were also demoralized about the entire demonstration, and their demoralization in some cases was about “leadership” in general rather than the particular class, nature and political line of the NAACP. And many of these same advanced workers were angry with the leadership of the OL at the march, who came only to criticize the NAACP and ended by leading a premature retreat on the grounds that the NAACP was not providing leadership therefore the beach should be abandoned! (Perhaps the OL should have made their self-criticism about May 17 public after all). There exists an organizational vacuum in the democratic movement, which cannot be easily filled. Carson’s Beach, which was a brilliant tactic of the democratic movement, resulted in confusion and demoralization where it should have resulted in enthusiasm and vigor.

The vacuum is ideological as well. The bankruptcy of the liberal bourgeoisie and the assimilationist has not strengthened the leadership of the revolutionaries. Rather, the left has backed away from the task of leading the democratic movement into several varieties of ’leftism’. On the one hand, the OL “rectifies” its own flabbiness by scaling down the scope of the democratic movement to the size of its own paper coalitions. On the other hand, many groups under the influence of the Worker’s Viewpoint journal confuse the inconsistent democracy of the liberal and assimilationist forces with any struggle for democracy, and armed with super-revolutionary phrases about “our aim is not build up bourgeois-democracy but to destroy it,” move away from consistent democracy and hence from revolution.

What are our tasks in the democratic movement? Our chief task is winning the leadership of the democratic movement, through uniting with the assimilationist and petit-bourgeois forces while struggling to both broaden and carry through their slogans. We do this from above – by taking part in all activities, forums, demonstrations, and so forth, called by the assimilationist and petit-bourgeois forces – but chiefly from below, by struggling to turn every platform, whether it be the biracial parents’ councils, the bourgeois media, the classrooms of the schools, the Garrity courtroom, the trade unions, the shop floors, the streets, into a voice of consistent democracy and revolution, proceeding from a concrete analysis of the situation at each turn to proposals for activity that reflect the needs of the democratic masses. At certain turns, broad demonstrations will be appropriate. At others, perhaps, the defense of one particular family and the struggle to publicize that defense will be the main task. We cannot predict in advance what the forms of struggle will be: what we can do is master all forms and learn from our mistakes.

While we are building the leadership of the revolutionaries within the democratic movement, we must also build the leadership by the democratic movement of more sections of the people in Boston. One such key sector is the trade-union movement. It is no exaggeration to say that without the support of the trade unions, the ABM could not continue. But the democratic movement, because of the class basis and stand of its assimilationist and petit-bourgeois elements, and because of the “left” errors of the “proletarian” forces, have paid very little attention to this task beyond the perspective of seeking trade-union endorsements for demonstrations. The question here is a question of “alliance or merger”: will there be simple ”alliance” between the trade unions (which take up “labor” issues) and the democratic movement (which takes up “democratic rights” issues), or will there be a merger in which democratic rights are at the heart of trade-union concerns and anti-labor politics are routed from the democratic movement. The success of the latter approach (which we support) depends on the degree to which the issues of the busing struggle are brought to the point of production. And this depends, in turn, on the work of the Left within the democratic movement.

Our slogans:

*End forced segregation in every area of U.S. life by any means necessary. An end to forcibly segregated education is a basic democratic demand of the working class.
*Defend the right of the oppressed nationalities to choose: busing, community control, or some combination of both. Oppose forced dispersion and atomization of oppressed nationality concentrations.
*Expose and destroy the “white rights” movement. We oppose every white-skin privilege clothed in the jargon of “white rights”: the “right to send white children to (white) neighborhood schools,” the “right to ’white-only’ jobs, hiring, or seniority,” the ”right to quality (white) education,” etc. We must struggle to win the white masses away from the “white rights” movement through patient and tireless agitation, education, and exposure of the bourgeois character of this movement.
*Organize to oppose all acts of terror against the oppressed nationalities. Organize armed self-defense for the oppressed nationality communities and white progressives against police terror and vigilante attacks.
*Defend the right to education in one’s native language, and instruction in one’s culture and history. Oppose assimilation of the oppressed nationalities into white-supremacist bourgeois culture. Oppose bourgeois ideological censorship in the schools. Propagate the internationalist culture of the proletariat.
*Oppose all educational cutbacks. Equalization of resources in all schools, with the exception of special funds for bi-lingual and “special needs” programs. End all state aid to private and parochial education.

* * *

The busing struggle is an enormously complicated one. It represents various currents of bourgeois politics that have emerged in 350 years of U.S. bourgeois democracy to destroy, divert, and divide the workers’ movement. It is, as the OL said repeatedly a year ago, “a test for all communist forces.”

While it must be admitted that so far we have failed this test, this is no cause for pessimism. Marxist-Leninists have no reason for pessimism, and our attitude toward the busing struggle is no exception. Whereas the reactionaries, while temporarily strong, are in the long run weak, and will grow weaker, we are growing stronger, because we struggle to represent the demands of the most advanced class in world history. A mistake, such as the mistakes we have made during the course of the struggle in Boston, weakens us in the short run, but in the long run strengthens us because we can analyze the mistakes and learn from them. And as our ideas come more and more to represent the direction of the working masses, the force of the masses will know no obstacle. As the Chinese Communists say:

The correctness or otherwise of the ideological and political line decides everything. When the Party’s line is correct, then everything will come its way. If it has no followers, then it can have followers; if it has no guns, then it can have guns; if it has no political power, then it can have political power. If its line is not correct, even what it has it may lose. The line is a net rope. When it is pulled, the whole net opens out. And in its meshes, all reactionaries are caught up and swept away.