Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Revolutionary Union

Boston Busing Struggle Sharpens

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 2, No. 10, November 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Since schools opened in Boston in September, the city has been the scene of intensified national and racial hostilities and police repression. While divisions between the different nationalities and police attacks certainly did not start with the busing plan, this latest ruling class attack has temporarily succeeded in sharpening the divisions within the working class and increased the repression tremendously. The ruling class has made use of the situation they have created to point to Black people and white people as the source of each other’s problems.

When the school buses transporting Black children first started rolling into South Boston, an almost all-white working class community, they were met with demonstrations of hundreds of white parents and youths who opposed the busing plan – One weekend, over 5000 people marched in South Boston against forced busing. In the course of these demonstrations, the buses were stoned by smaller groups, including some South Boston parents and gangs of unemployed South Boston teenagers, hitting and injuring a number of Black children.

Mayor White sent large numbers of police out to South Boston, allegedly to protect Black children. But bystanders reported that in many cases, police actually encouraged rock throwing and allowed groups of assailants through their lines, while also using the opportunity to come down hard on some of the white teenagers and bystanders.,/p>

At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) began to play an open role in the organized opposition to the busing–in part through harassing Black and Latin residents of Columbia Point, a housing project near South Boston. Six Klan members fired some shots into the project on Sept. 21 and were met by a return volley. Columbia Point residents knew that they could not rely on the cops to protect them, and that they had to defend themselves. So they organized self-defense committees in the project.

In response to the organization of these groups, and using the shooting as a justification and anger at the busing plan in the white community as an avenue of support, the city government sent in 300 police. The cops, equipped with M-16s and M-1s, occupied the project, attacking tenants and looting ’ apartments, supposedly looking for weapons. Point residents and Black communities throughout the city and some working people of all nationalities started organizing in response. Three days later, the police were withdrawn from the Columbia Point Christian Center, which was headquarters for the self-defense. But a significant force remained on rooftops for weeks.

While focused primarily on the Black and Latin community, police attacks also came down on South Boston, allegedly in response to a phone call from the Rabbit Inn (a bar in the area) reporting a cop in trouble. The Tactical Police Force (TPF) arrived and attacked and wrecked the bar, beating up and arresting people in and around it. People in South Boston say that it was really a retaliatory raid because several of the patrons had beat up a member of the TPF.

The following day, a thousand South Boston residents turned out for a demonstration against TPF brutality and TPF presence in their community. They carried signs demanding, “Hitler’s Gestapo Out of South Boston.”

Tensions were high in South Boston and the leadership of the organized anti-busing forces were using the busing plan to pin the blame for the TPF attacks on Black people, saying that if “Blacks weren’t trying to come in and take over our schools,” etc., the TPF wouldn’t be there.

The following day, Oct. 7, a crowd of people leaving an anti-busing demonstration in South Boston attacked a Haitian man, Andrea Jean-Louis Yvon, who was driving through the area to pick up his wife from work. Patrick Perkins and Ron King, two white workers who live nearby, along with several of their neighbors, helped to defend Yvon. Perkins then allegedly turned and punched the teeth out of one of the TPFers, who was beating on his wife and child.

Perkins, who has five children, is facing charges of assault and battery on a police officer and is being followed and harassed by TPF members. Perkins has found, however, that most of his neighbors support his actions and did not think the attack on Yvon was right. Ron King, who has four children, was also arrested and charged with “violating the civil rights” of Yvon–even though what he actually did was help to rescue him!”

Yvon was sent to Boston City Hospital for treatment, where he was simply bandaged and sent home, only to be brought back three days later close to a coma, an effect of the same incident. The following day, angered by both the stoning of Black kids being bused and the attack on Yvon, Black students at Boston Latin and English High Schools attacked white students and the police moved in, leading to a fight between police and Black students. The fighting spread to nearby Black housing projects on Mission Hill and near Dudley Street. A crowd of 1000 Black people surrounded Dudley train and bus station and 2-300 Blacks marched up a nearby street, breaking storefront windows. The cops responded with random beatings of anyone in the area.

In this situation, the influence of bourgeois forces such as the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus of state representatives has grown among Black people. Many who at first were opposed to the busing plan, or at most lukewarm toward it, shifted more toward the stand of supporting the plan, not mainly because they feel it will improve their kids’ education, but because “we’re not going to take this” – the racist attacks.

The NAACP, the Black Caucus and others push the line that white workers are the enemy of Black people and that the ruling class’ government is their savior. This line came through clearly at the march on Oct. 12, to “support your youth,” organized by the NAACP and others. About 1000 Black people came, and besides the demand for government troops in South Boston, the line was put out that, in the words of a local Black politician, “white people keeping us from going to South Boston schools are the same ones who’ve been keeping us down for years.”

Sharp Struggle in Revolutionary Movement

All these developments have made the task of communists in uniting with the legitimate aspirations of the masses of people, Black, Latin and white, exposing the ruling class as the real enemy and helping to direct the spearhead against it, to lay the basis for unity, all the more complicated and pressing. And in these conditions, the different lines and the struggle over them within the revolutionary movement here have become all the more clear and sharp.

As mentioned in last month’s Revolution article, a number of so-called revolutionary organizations, including the October League (OL), have put forward the line that “racism is the only issue” in the South Boston boycott, and that the white people involved in the boycott are a bunch of “fascist gangs” who should be broken up by the government. But what about people like Patrick Perkins, who came to the defense of a Black under attack in South Boston. Perkins is strongly opposed to the busing plan, so is the “only issue” involved with him, or all the neighbors who support him, racism? Should we support the police who attacked Perkins, his wife and others involved in this defense?

With the line it has, OL has naturally not gone out among the masses of people in South Boston and actually attempted to turn the fire against reactionaries like Louise Hicks (member of the City Council and former Boston School Committee member) and the ruling class as a whole. Instead, OL now is sitting on the sidelines (to use one of its favorite phrases that accurately describes its own actions) and taking potshots at the RU, which has been out consistently in South Boston, opposing the attacks on Blacks and Latins, and putting forward the demand for decent and equal education, while at the same time opposing the busing plan.

To cover up its own straight-out bourgeois line, OL has picked up on certain errors the RU has made and, completely distorting them, has run all over the place screaming that the RU is “marching with the KKK.” For example, People for A Decent Education, a committee composed of RU members, Black and white parents and others, called a demonstration in downtown Boston on Oct. 9. The leaflet put out for the demonstration had, at the top, a picture of a stop sign, with the word “stop” in it, and below that in large print the words “The BUSING PLAN & POLICE ATTACKS!” and “FIGHT FOR DECENT EDUCATION.” As it turns out, this stop-sign symbol has been used by Hicks and other reactionary forces in the fight against busing.

While the leaflet was put out by a committee, the RU is a leading force within it, and in particular bears responsibility for the stop-sign symbol. But it is an absolute slander to try to put over the line–as the OL has–that in this leaflet, or in any other form, the RU is uniting with people like Hicks. The RU comrades responsible for the symbol being put on the leaflet were not aware then that it was being used by the reactionaries. But this shows that we have not been deeply enough involved in the struggle and the South Boston community. This is a shortcoming we are moving to correct (when the significance of the symbol was discovered, further distribution of the leaflet was stopped).

Leaflet’s Content Correct

But the content of the leaflet, something OL doesn’t show any interest in, makes it absolutely clear that while the committee opposes the busing plan, it has nothing in common with the reactionary stand of Hicks and other Boston politicians, etc. Below the headings on the leaflet are four demands: 1) “Stop Boston’s Busing Plan!” 2) “Police out of Columbia Point! Stop Police Attacks on Poor and Working People, Particularly on Black and Latin People;” 3) “Decent Education For All, Equal Educational Resources to Hire Black and Latin Teachers for Language and Cultural Programs and Better Facilities in Black and Latin Schools; Improve All Schools, Community Control of Allocation of Funds,” and 4) “Support the Right of Black and Latin People to Defend Themselves Against Organized Racist Attacks.”

And a little later, the leaflet points out that “The School Committee, and most vocally, Hicks and Kerrigan, also oppose the busing plan. But that’s because the School Committee sees segregation as the best way to continue the educational policies that screw Black and Latin people. In the past 10 years the School Committee has intensified segregation (in 1967 there were 46 racially imbalanced schools in Boston; now there are 67) and provided the fewest and worst education resources to schools in Black and Latin neighborhoods.” And the leaflet adds that, “At the same time as we fight the busing plan, we also have to fight the racist ideas being pushed on people by the School Committee and the discrimination in the school system. We have to oppose the racism that is an element of some of the resistance to busing.”

Significantly, the Trotskyite Socialist Workers Party (SWP) also attacked the RU on the basis of this leaflet, especially the last sentence quoted just above. SWP tilted its pen at the RU for daring to say that the people in South Boston are not all a bunch of racists, and that the “only issue” in the boycott is not just racism–though it is certainly an element, as the leaflet says.

The SWP runs the same line as OL–calling for the police and government to come down on the white boycotters, and blasting the RU for opposing police attacks on whites. According to the SWP, “Revolutionaries should be for decisive action (action, that is, by the police and government–Ed.) against the hoodlum gangs attacking Black people.” (See SWP’s newspaper, the Militant, Oct. 25, 1974, p. 6.)

The RU also believes that decisive action should be taken against the attacks on Black people–as reflected in the slogans we have raised and in our general propaganda, agitation and organizing. In fact, at the demonstration in question on Oct. 9, another leaflet was handed out by the same committee. People for a Decent Education, which was headed by the slogan “Stop the Racist Attacks on Black People,” and was followed by two other demands: “Stop Police Attacks on Black, Latin and White People and People of all Nationalities, Stop the Busing Plan;” and “Fight For Decent Education.”

Where the RU stands fundamentally and unalterably opposed to the line of SWP, OL and other opportunist scum is that we identify the ruling class and its state apparatus as the enemy. And we put forward the right of self-defense for Black and Latin people, and the duty of white people, especially white workers, to themselves take decisive action to stop the attacks on Black and Latin people. This is why we are popularizing, in leaflets and other forms, the actions of people like Patrick Perkins, to build support for this stand in South Boston and elsewhere.

In opposition to this, the SWP, like OL, insists that white people in South Boston are just racists-backward clods who we should call on the ruling class to suppress. SWP further attacks the “stop-sign” leaflet, because the leaflet notes that there have been instances of “white people being attacked by Black and Latin kids.” SWP takes a sentence following this out of context, cuts the sentence in half, to read simply, “We defend the right of anyone to defend him or herself against these kinds of attacks,”’ and comes up with the lie that the “RU thus gives credibility to the racist call-to-arms against the threat of ’Black violence.’”

In fact, the whole section of the leaflet in question stresses the right and need for Black and other third world people to organize self-defense against attacks from the police and others, and in this context says, “Because the busing plan has heightened racial tensions, there have been incidents of white people being attacked by Black and Latin kids. We support the right of anyone to defend him or herself against these kinds of attacks, while recognizing that they are coming down in the heaviest and most systematic way on Blacks and Latinos.”

The SWP, like OL, does all this distorting to divert attention from their own line of completely tailing after the bourgeoisie. According to these “socialists,” the real enemy is not the bourgeois state–it, after all, is the friend and protector of Black people–but white workers. Calling for more “decisive action” Jay the cops and federal troops only amounts to calling for further attacks on all the people and especially third world people. And the events in Boston have shown once again, as a recent RU leaflet put out in Boston runs it down, “the ruling class’ military might has always been used most viciously against the oppressed nationalities. What have we learned in the last month, when the police started out in South Boston, supposedly protecting the buses, actually encouraging rock throwing on the side, and at the first excuse, moved into Columbia Point and Mission Hill with full riot gear and automatic rifles?...We cannot rely on the same ruling class which is attacking us to defend us.”

The SWP and OL have learned none of this, because their class outlook keeps them from learning it. The SWP attacks the RU for promoting unity only “in the abstract,” while OL and its friends accuse us of using unity only as a cover for racism. To these people the only way to have unity not on the basis of racism and not in the abstract is to have it in the concrete with the bourgeoisie!

Birds of a Feather...

Not only does OL have unity with the SWP and other Trotskyites (such as the “Workers World Party,” better known for its youth group, Youth Against War and Fascism), and with the revisionist CP, but OL has lately taken to acting like Trotskyites in trying to attack the RU.

At a celebration of the Two October Revolutions in the Bay Area on Oct. 20 in which the RU was a main force, OL members came around, screaming like hysterical Trotskyite brats at people coming to the celebration, and passing out as a leaflet a reprint from an article in Struggle, Black newspaper in Boston with which OL is closely aligned.

The Struggle article attacked the RU’s role in Boston – without, however, mentioning the RU by name – and to their reprint of this leaflet OL added, “The October Revolution Liberated the Working Class & Oppressed Nationalities In Russia & China. We Think It Is Plain Hypocrisy for the R.U.– Who Takes The Stand On Busing That Is Criticized In This Article – To Sponsor Such A Program.” We would like to inform OL that the October Revolutions in these countries were based on uniting the masses of people of all nationalities to overthrow the reactionary ruling classes and their state apparatus, they were not based on calling for the state apparatus to attack the people! So we think it is plain hypocrisy for OL to put the initials “M-L” behind its name–unless these stand for Menshevik-Liberal.

But–and we hope OL will forgive us for such an act of “chauvinism”–let’s analyze the line of this Struggle article. The article avoids taking a clear stand on the busing plan, one way or the other, but instead attacks the RU (though not by name) for supposedly not upholding ”the democratic right of oppressed nationality children to go to any school that they wish and that they not be attacked, that the government foot the bill, that is, provide transportation.”

First off, “Democracy,” as Lenin points out in The State and Revolution, “means equality.” And as a recent RU leaflet in Boston (“Defeat The Ruling Class Divide & Conquer Scheme!”) puts it,

The primary democratic right at issue is the right of the oppressed nationalities to equal and decent education. It’s a mistaken (Huston to think that the busing plan wins that right.”

But opposing the busing plan is, according to Struggle, advocating the segregationist line of “’separate but equal’ education for Black and other Third World children.” This is just crap. ”Separate but equal” was the policy practiced in the South, which made a principle out of Blacks and whites going to separate schools, with the Black schools deliberately kept unequal. In practice, this meant that Black kids were bused–or most often had to walk–past better white schools to Black schools, often far away from their homes.

Our stand is exactly the opposite of this. We are for the maximum integration of schools because we are for the unity of our class, of all nationalities. Having kids of different nationalities go to the same schools is, in and of itself, a progressive thing, as we pointed out in last month’s Revolution, because it helps break down stereotypes and prejudices fostered by the ruling class and helps working people of different nationalities and their children learn more about their common problems and aspirations. It lays more of a basis for class consciousness and class unity, while making the ruling class’ divide and conquer tactics more difficult. And, in general, this puts us in a better position to fight for decent education as well as to wage the overall struggle against the ruling class.

What Are the Issues?

We certainly support the right of oppressed nationality children to go to better schools-at the expense of the ruling class. But this is not the only issue involved in Boston. The present busing plan “doesn’t substantially improve the quality of education Black and Latin kids get” (to quote again from the recent RU leaflet), but what it does do is force parents, both white and Black, to send their kids to other parts of town to go to school, with no real planning or preparation, while allowing the schools, especially in the working class neighborhoods and most of all in the oppressed nationality communities, to deteriorate further.

Busing is not the main issue that Struggle raises either. In fact, in the same issue of Struggle as the article attacking the RU’s line (October 1974) is another article putting forward the position that ”we stand opposed to forced integration of minorities at the white schools and see it as a violation of the rights of minorities. The busing plan in Boston has directly affected the minority people in a negative way. Black people and Latinos have been forced to leave their communities and be subjected to fascist attacks by organized mobs without the least amount of protection. Latinos have been forced out of schools that have bilingual programs that are a necessity to their education.”

But, the article adds, Struggle does not “oppose the busing plan for the reasons that have been stated by the leaders of the racist anti-busing movement. We clearly see the nature of this movement, led by the most reactionary racist politicians with active support from other fascist groups like the American Party and KKK. For this reason, we see the main activity of all progressive and revolutionary whites who truly support the democratic struggles of oppressed nationalities to oppose this movement and work actively for its defeat. Those who desert the struggles of the minorities in a chauvinist effort to win over white workers expose themselves.

Despite all their chanting of working class unity, they merely cover their racism with revolutionary rhetoric. For Black people we see the true direction of our movement as one heading toward full democratic rights, including community control, we do not see it headed towards integration.”

And a member of Struggle, who is also a member of OL, put forward this same line at an OL forum, saying that they didn’t support the busing plan but they didn’t really want to oppose it either, because that would put them in unity with “those racist whites,’ etc.

Here we get down to it and see the bourgeois nationalist line in several of its aspects. If the busing plan is not in the interests of the people, third world or white, then you should oppose it, unite with the legitimate reasons for opposing it, and at the same time make clear your absolute opposition to Hicks, Kerrigan and Co., and in this way drive a wedge between these reactionary leaders and the masses, many of whom are still politically unenlightened and are therefore under their influence.

This is what you would do if you are a Marxist and divide one-into-two. You would recognize that, while there are racist influences among the whites opposing the busing plan, there are also correct aspects to this opposition that can and must be united with, while struggling against the backward ideas. But you can’t take this approach if you see racism as the “only issue” involved, and you really see white workers as the enemy and the bourgeois state as a protector.

This is the essence of Struggle’s (and, of course, OL’s stand). Their attack on the RU is really for refusing to take this stand. This comes out in a statement in Struggle that the RU line “blames busing for the attacks on Black children and not the deeply rooted racism instilled in white workers by the capitalist system. It does not see the deep pitted flame of racism being fanned by fascist elements to incite attacks on Black and other third world people as being a real thing.”

Despite the token reference to “instilled...by the capitalist system,” it is clear from everything else In this article that Struggle regards the white workers as the problem. And this is made clearer when you remember that Struggle, along with the OL and others, raised the demand that the government come in to put down the white boycott (see last month’s Revolution).

Do we support, can we support, the South Boston boycott as it is? No, we do not and cannot. While the great majority of people involved certainly have legitimate concerns and are being made to pay the freight for a busing plan that benefits no one but the bourgeoisie, these are being seized on and misdirected by reactionaries. We must unite with the real concerns of the masses of people involved in the boycott, while struggling against incorrect ideas and exposing the reactionaries, to win the masses to a correct line of unity with the oppressed nationalities against the common enemy–the ruling class.

But just as we cannot support the boycott as it is, neither can we support the line that everybody involved in the boycott is just a racist, or that “the only issue” in it is racism. For this reason the RU did not support a demonstration on Oct. 19 in Boston, called by a coalition of tenants groups and movement organizations. This demonstration raised certain demands that must be united with–such as a call for an end to the racist attacks on Black and Latin people–but it also implied support for the busing plan and strongly implied that the people in the South Boston boycott were all racists and were responsible for the problem.

What We Have Done

The RU has worked instead to build support for the demands to stop the busing plan and police attacks, fight for equal and decent education, and stop the attacks on Black and Latin people. We are working to build People for A Decent Education, to unite white and Black and other third world parents around these demands and spread this in the white and the minority communities.

This has proved to be difficult and slow-going. The Oct. 9 demonstration, sponsored by the committee, was not large and included only a few parents. Black or white. This, of course, was at a time of great tension in all the communities and widespread incidents of fighting, which was a factor in keeping some people away from the demonstration.

But still, this shows the tremendous amount of work that still must be done to organize and mobilize people on the basis of the correct line and demands, and RU comrades, and people working on the Mass Worker, an anti-imperialist workers’ paper, have gone back to people in the committee, and involved new people, from work places as well as the communities, in building the beginning basis of support for these demands.

Leaflets have been widely passed out in the various communities, and meetings around these demands have been organized. The response has generally been very positive, in both white and minority communities, but there is still the difficult task of building on this and overcoming the moves of the ruling class and its agents to misdirect the people’s anger and pit different nationalities against each other.

In carrying out this correct line, however, the RU has tended to overemphasize the question of opposing the busing plan. This was reflected, for example, in the headline in last month’s Revolution, “People Must Unite to Smash Boston Busing Plan,” despite the correct analysis of the article itself. While it is correct to oppose this particular busing plan, communists, as we said in that article, do not support or oppose busing in the abstract, though we are in principle for integration of the schools, housing, etc., and the breaking down of patterns of segregation and oppression of the minority nationalities.

The demand we should be focusing more around in the Boston struggle is the question of equal and decent education, while, within that, opposing this particular busing plan, and at the same time making clear our general stand in favor of integration and equality between nationalities.

The reason this error has been made to some degree is that, unlike groups like the OL and other opportunist forces who call themselves revolutionary and claim to represent the working class, we correctly analyzed the busing plan as an attack on the people and an attempt to divide and rule, but we didn’t go into the question deeply or from all sides enough. The bourgeoisie is caught in a crisis it can’t solve, and as it gets worse, as the anger of the people grows and the system is becoming more exposed, the ruling class needs and brings forward means of setting the people at each other’s throats to derail the development of a revolutionary mass movement. Our duty as communists is to turn this into its opposite–to unite the people to strike at the jugular of the ruling class. But, while correctly recognizing this, we fell somewhat into the error of accepting the terms in which the bourgeoisie presented things.

Instead, we must concentrate on finding the terms that are most favorable for the masses of people in turning the contradiction into its opposite. This lies where the masses of people of all nationalities do have the strongest basis of unity in opposition to the ruling class-the fight for decent and equal education in the face of cutbacks in education, and intensification of discrimination against the oppressed nationalities.

By focusing on this demand, while opposing this particular busing plan and putting forward our principled position against segregation, we can isolate the reactionaries of all stripes and unite the people against the reactionary ruling class. And, of course, through all this we must bring forward the understanding that only by overthrowing imperialism and building socialism can we provide a bright future for our kids and resolve the contradictions capitalism creates among the people.

At the same time, with the continuing attacks on Black and Latin people, we must pay special attention to organizing active opposition to this and supporting the organization of self-defense against these attacks.

In its attack on the RU line, Struggle calls on “white revolutionaries...to go into South Boston, yes go into South Boston and meet this racism head on.” This should be directed at the OL, since this is exactly what the RU has been doing (and we don’t think it’s anything other than what communists should do), while OL has consistently failed to do it. But then, with its line, OL cannot do it.

And, at the same time, the Black and other minority cadre of the RU have been struggling against the bourgeois line put forward by the NAACP, Black Caucus and others, rather than uniting with this line, as groups like Struggle and OL are doing.

Those who think that the only way to stand with Black people and other oppressed nationalities is to attack white workers as simply a bunch of racists, who think that the ruling class is the friend of the oppressed, can at best only drag at the tail of the struggle, and, if they continue in this path, can only end up falling over backwards completely into the camp of the ruling class.

The success of the ruling class and its agents in setting the oppressed and exploited against each other can only be temporary. We all have a common enemy and a common destiny in abolishing exploitation by overthrowing and eliminating the capitalist ruling class. With genuine communist leadership, basing itself on the outlook of the working class and relying on the masses, unity will be forged, through the fight for equality and for our common interests as a class. Those who stand with the bourgeoisie in opposing this have, like the bourgeoisie itself, no future.