Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Carl Davidson

Which Side are you on? [on the RU’s Boston busing position]


First Published: The Guardian, October 30, 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The Revolutionary Union’s (RU) monthly newspaper, Revolution, features an article entitled “People Must Unite to Smash Boston Busing Plan” on the front page of its October issue.

The headline alone is enough to arouse suspicions as to whether or not RU has finally sunk both feet deeply into the swamp of white chauvinism and decided to go down fighting.

But the content of the article gives even greater ’ substance to those suspicions and reveals exactly what many Marxist-Leninists mean by the charge that RU “liquidates the national question.”

The issues in the Boston school crisis are clear. For years the Boston School Committee and City Council have been consciously increasing segregation. This was fought in the courts by the NAACP and other Black groups and, this summer, a federal judge finally ruled in their favor and ordered school busing as a means of breaking up segregation.

But Boston’s ruling class segregationists did not take this lying down. The School Committee and City Council–all reactionary white Democrats led by John Kerrigan and Louise Day Hicks–had carefully prepared over the years to continue the fight by extra-legal means. Their weapons include mass racist demonstrations, a reactionary white boycott of schools where Black children I are being sent, stoning of buses carrying Black children, several attempted lynchings and an armed raid on a Black neighborhood. These efforts are being joined by police, organized crime, the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazis.

This racist and fascist front has a common goal that can be summed up in one slogan: “Unite to defeat the Boston busing plan.”

The Black community in Boston has differing views on busing. Some support it, from either an integrationist stand or as a means to gain access to better school facilities. Others oppose it and stress the importance of community control and improvement of Black schools.

But on one point there is broad unity. Whatever the differences on the busing plan, there is agreement that the key task now is to oppose the white boycott and defend the democratic right of Black students to attend the white schools if they so choose.

CAPITULATES TO RACISM

Where does this leave RU? In both the Revolution article and RU-led work in Boston, they capitulate to the reactionary tide and even embellish it.

RU is still refusing to call for breaking the white boycott. In fact, Revolution says that “the only logical conclusion” of the slogan, “End the white boycott, stem the fascist tide!” “is that white workers are the enemy.” In addition to being a refusal to oppose a chauvinist attack on Afro-Americans (which is the essence of the boycott), this s also a slander of the white workers, in that it suggests that the racist action is not opposed to their interests as well.

Revolution does not even say that the boycott is organized and led by the Hicks-Kerrigan clique. Instead it is described neutrally as “resistance to the busing plan,” “a growing movement” and as “began” by “thousands of white parents and students.”

Politically the article presents the boycott as a mixed bag. “Many parents, both Black and white, kept their children off the buses and out of the schools for a variety of reasons. Some were fearful for their children’s safety, some were simply opposed to the busing plan. And some white parents had been influenced by the racist arguments of Hicks. ..”

It is true that there is a partial Black boycott of some white schools in Boston. But what RU covers up here is that the Black parentsí boycott is aimed directly against the cutting edge of the white boycott, saying that their children will be kept home until the racist mobs are stopped from attacking them.

There is one sentence in the Revolution article that casts a negative light on the white boycott. “While it is clear that many have gotten drawn into the boycott because they are fed up with the conditions in the schools, it is also clear that the boycott just intensifies the contradictions among the people.”

So do a lot of things. Many of the initial spontaneous struggles of Black workers, for instance, “intensified contradictions” with some whites, yet they were still mainly progressive. By saying this in relation to the white boycott, RU still isn’t taking a stand.

But the question was put directly to RU cadre at a meeting called to discuss busing by the Mass Worker, the RU-led “united front” paper in Boston. “Are you for or against the white boycott,” they were asked. “Do you want to see it defeated or do you want to see it win?”

The answer was that while the boycott was “led by reactionaries” and expressed some “racist ideas,” it nonetheless had “a lot of progressive aspects.” They were then asked, “Well, then, which is the principal aspect? Is it primarily progressive or primarily reactionary?” There was no answer.

The Mass Worker went even further than Revolution. Even though incorrectly aimed at Blacks, says its first article on the busing issue, the tactic of “blockading buses” is termed “justified militancy.”

DISTORTS BLACK HISTORY

The same article also displayed a racist ignorance of Black history. After Blacks defeated slavery, it said, they went on to set up “their own ’separate but equal’ schools.” In fact, Southern schools during Reconstruction were mainly multinational. Blacks were later driven into separate schools, or out of them entirely, by the Klan terror, which was finally “legalized” by the Supreme Court’s “separate but equal” ruling in the 1890s.

For the Mass Worker to make this claim in the midst of the Boston crisis, whether by oversight or by design, shifts the blame for segregation onto the Black people themselves. And the use of the term, “justified militancy,” even if meant abstractly, only covers up for a racist mob.

The Revolution article is more careful. It tries to stand “above the battle.” Its only descriptions of the attacks on Black children by racist gangs go like this: ”Black parents are keeping their children off the buses. . .because of the fights between Black and white students that have taken place in the tense situation” and “fighting between Black and white students broke out in a number of schools.”

Between Black and white students? The RU is so blinded by chauvinism that it cannot even say who is attacking whom, that it describes a fascist-instigated mob as a ”tense situation,” and that it slanders white students for actions carried out by gangs that include adults and were in some cases, assisted by police. Even if Black students did strike first in a “tense situation,” whose “militancy” is “justified” and whose is not?

The RU’s entire stand in the Boston crisis reveals the essential rightism behind its “left” cover. It says it opposes discrimination “concretely” by calling for “more money” for Black and Latin education, but it will not–or has not yet–taken up the two key immediate political demands against discrimination that would form a principled basis of unity between Black and white workers: “End the white boycott” and “Defend the democratic right of Black students to attend any school.”

DEMOCRATIC RIGHT

Overall, the Boston situation requires that the ruling class be fought by aiming the main blow at the fascists while exposing the liberals as their conciliators. RU does just the opposite. It aims the main blow at the liberals and conciliates the fascists by covering for them.

RU doesn’t even think fascism is an important question in this struggle, despite the activity of the KKK, the Nazis and the chauvinist and terrorist character of the Hicks-Kerrigan clique. “What this line comes down to.” says RU, “is that the ’social base for fascism’ is the white workers, not the ruling class.”

This shows that RU doesn’t even know what fascism is or what the term “social base” means. The class base, the root of fascism, is finance capital. “Social base” means the broader forces within society as a whole that finance capital needs to mobilize, beyond its own ranks, to give its fascist movement a mass character. Its “social base” in this regard is classically the petty bourgeoisie, but also, as Dimitrov points out, can include backward layers of the working class itself.

RU has long maintained that the right of self-determination does not play a central role in the Black liberation struggle and that “supporting democratic rights” was more important. Now it is becoming clearer that even “democratic rights,” particularly the democratic right of Black children to go to South Boston High School, is not all that important either in its view.

There are two paragraphs in the RU’s analysis of Boston that revolutionaries can agree with wholeheartedly although not in the sense its authors intended.

“Communists and other revolutionary-minded people in Boston,” says RU, “have been faced with a very difficult situation, and in attempting to deal with it a vital two-line struggle has arisen.

“Unbelievable as it may sound, this struggle comes down to: do you stand with the people in defeating the ruling class’ attempt to divide them, or do you stand with the ruling class and aid them in their schemes? This is no overstatement. Some so-called and self-proclaimed ’communists,’ who have the unmitigated gall to say they speak in the name of the working class, have exposed just exactly where they really stand.”