Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Opportunists Let Enemy Off Hook

15,000 Hit Bakke Decision

First Published: Revolution, Vol. 3, No. 7-8, April-May 1978.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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More than 15,000 people of all nationalities marched through the streets of Washington D.C. on April 15 to oppose the Bakke Decision, a major attack being launched by the capitalist rulers of this country against affirmative action programs, as part of a general attack on minority nationalities.

The demonstration and a rally following were sponsored by a group called the National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision (NCOBD), which has developed in the past year into an influential force in the anti-Bakke Decision movement. Joining the activities on April 15 were thousands of students–particularly from Washington’s Black campuses like Howard University, workers from a number of areas, and professionals like doctors and lawyers. Included here was a contingent organized by the Revolutionary Communist Youth Brigade (RCYB–Youth group of the RCP), joined by the African Liberation Support Committee, and a number of chapters and individuals of the Medical Committee for Human Rights. This contingent was united under the banner: “Fight Imperialism–The Source of All Oppression!” and also raised the slogans, “Minorities and Whites, Unite to Smash the Bakke Decision!” and “Fight All Attacks on Oppressed Nationalities!”

Overall the demonstration and rally had a positive set in helping to build a powerful and broad struggle to smash the Bakke Decision, as the demonstrators marched past the Capitol and Supreme Court, showing the strong and growing opposition to the Bakke Case.

Unfortunately the march also showed that the NCOBD has sunk even deeper into the quicksand of reformist politics since its first attempts last year to draw up petitions to the Congressmen asking them to truly act as the elected representatives of the people and vote to overturn the Bakke Decision. These depths were proven in Washington by the NCOBD’s parading of one after another politician before the crowd at the rally, and during the march by their attempts to drown out any chants which linked the fight against the Bakke Decision to the fight against imperialism.

Few people listened to the speeches at the rally, as city officials, union hacks (there were speakers from the Internationals of both the UAW and a postal workers’ union), and aspiring political pimps ran out the raggedy line which NCOBD has been pushing for months: it is the task of all patriotic Americans to stop the new right wing movement afoot in the U.S. In particular, the fascist scum of the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi were pointed to as being responsible for nearly all problems in the country, from the oppression of minorities, to unemployment, to the oppression of women. Totally absent from the speeches was any mention of the bourgeoisie being the main enemy to fight around this and all questions of oppression. The KKK and the Nazis need to be combated every time they show their ugly costumes, but this has to be done as part of the larger fight against the capitalist ruling class which is behind them and other, far more significant, reactionary happenings.

Instead of seeing that these varmints are actually promoted every inch of the way by the monopoly capitalists, the NCOBD leadership has consistently done everything in its power to not only confuse the source of the Bakke Decision, but in fact they have purposely pointed the finger away from the capitalists.

Revive Civil Rights Movement?

A number of speakers at the rally seemed to take into account some of the developments in this country in the last 10 years, since the time massive struggles of minority peoples erupted in the cities and on college campuses raising demands for affirmative action programs which the Bakke Decision would wipe out. Many spoke of the renewed attacks on minorities coming down now as a result of the economic crisis facing this country today. But the solutions which were promoted at the rally were simply that a new civil rights movement was needed, which would not even start from where the old one left off, but which would “relive the good old days” of Martin Luther King and the freedom rides. (More than one speaker even tried to sound like King, figuring that this would add legitimacy to their words.)

The development of the civil rights movement itself proved that the struggle against national oppression cannot be limited to fighting for new laws and against racist attitudes. Laws are no guarantee of equality as people have learned through the experience with affirmative action laws themselves. While there are definitely racist ideas among people and these must be vigorously struggled against, they are part of and rooted in the systematic national oppression of the capitalist system. And while fighting around particular laws and against racism are both important, neither by itself gets to the heart of the matter, the rule of the capitalist class and the brutal super-exploitation and oppression they bring down on minority peoples.

What is called for today is not a renewed civil rights movement. Equality and emancipation are indeed the goals in ending national oppression, but these goals cannot be achieved as long as the capitalists rule. And the fight against them cannot be separated from the fight against their imperialist system. As the experience of the movement of the ’60s helped lay the basis to understand, the core of this fight is the revolutionary alliance of the working class movement as a whole with the struggles of oppressed nationalities-aimed at the common imperialist enemy.

The petty bourgeois world outlook of NCOBD and their speakers in Washington blocks them from seeing and acting on these things, as do their narrow, self-seeking aspirations of building themselves up as the leaders of this “new Civil Rights movement.”

In short, the NCOBD limits the entire explanation of the Bakke Decision and the fight against it within the confines of capitalism. Its very name lends itself to this, with the thrust of their efforts confined to “overturning” the Bakke decision, in other words, fighting the battle out mainly in the legal arena where, they hold, the real issue will be decided.

A Puny Echo

Lending a helping hand to the attempts of the NCOBD to hide the target of the Bakke Decision fight is the “Revolutionary Student Brigade” (RSB–not to be confused with the RSB which helped form the RCYB last fall. Those now calling themselves the RSB include members of the opportunist clique which tried to wreck the RCP and, upon failing, left the Party to wallow in the low and muddy marshes of Menshevism). To quote from a recent national leaflet from the RSB: “The Bakke Decision is not for equality but for discrimination. It represents not neutrality but renewed prejudice. The prejudice that barred Black students in Montgomery. The prejudice that stalked the streets of South Boston. The prejudice built into every hiring hall and admissions office. It’s the prejudice and inequality that creates millions of second class citizens. Second class citizenship to be legalized by nine robed justices in the Supreme Court. Robed in the white colors of the KKK.” (emphasis added)

To use the word “prejudice” instead of “racism” changes little; if anything the word “prejudice” is more narrow than the NCOBD’s “racism,” because at least racism has come to stand for a whole system of ideas which uphold the oppression of minorities, while prejudice refers to individual “attitudes.”

The point the RSB is making is that prejudice oppresses minorities. The capitalists aren’t labelled as the source of this attack, only sweeping prejudice which we thought we had beaten down in Montgomery but, dammit, seems to be acting up again.

This line is an interesting flip from the line held early on by some of the Mensheviks while they were still in the RCP–that the Bakke Decision was mainly a question of a divide and conquer scheme. As the RCP leadership pointed out at that time, this position is wrong because while there is an aspect of the bourgeoisie trying to divide the masses around the issue of “reverse discrimination,” the essence of the Bakke Decision is to take away basic political rights of minorities.

While apparently contradictory, both these reformist lines held by these Mensheviks have a common essence. Neither view sees the struggle against national oppression as a revolutionary question, which is both rooted in the basic class contradiction in society and is also a powerful revolutionary force in its own right, reacting in turn on the basic class conflict.

Contingent Hits Target

As already mentioned, there was a contingent within the April 15 demonstration marching under the banner “Fight Imperialism–The Source of All Oppression!” The purpose of the contingent was to unite with the overall positive thrust of the march, that is, fighting the Bakke Decision, while at the same time bringing out the crucial importance of targeting the real source of the Bakke Decision, the real enemy of the masses of oppressed nationalities in this country–the bloodsoaked capitalist ruling class.

Many of the students and high school youth in the contingent had participated in Armband Day sponsored by the RCYB on April 12 on campuses throughout the country. In all, thousands of armbands were distributed bearing the slogans “Minorities and Whites, Unite to Smash the Bakke Decision!” and “Fight All Attacks on Oppressed Nationalities!” This was a powerful statement in itself of the determination of students to fight the Bakke attack, and also contributed to raising the understanding of tens of thousands more students about the issues involved, as debates and discussions raged for hours in some places over the Bakke Case and national oppression.

At the demonstration in Washington, one chant in particular that the contingent raised, “Equality Yes, Discrimination No, Capitalist System Has Got to Go!” was extremely well received, as people lining the streets clapped in time and took up the chant themselves. It was clear that people were looking for far more answers to the problems posed by the Bakke Case, and a lot more militant actions than they were able to get from the leadership of the activities that day.

The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to make its decision on the Bakke Case public, but already the RCYB and others are making preparations for the ruling. It has been clear all along that the Bakke Decision is just the front line of advancing attacks on oppressed nationalities in the U.S., and that the movement being built against the decision is only part of the rising resistance to the capitalists’ attacks on minorities.

The sizable number of people demonstrating in Washington April 15 speaks to the fact that there are broad and deep feelings against the Bakke Decision in this country. And the fact that the reformism of the leadership of the march couldn’t hold back the militant spirit of the demonstrators shows that there is great potential for further developments in the struggle against the oppression of minority nationalities.