Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Anne Adams

The left, the Jesse Jackson campaign and the 1984 election

First Published: Unity, Vol. 7, No. 12, August 31-September 13, 1984.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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While there are some Trotskyites and ultra-left groups which profess that a Reagan re-election will make no difference, most groups in the U.S. left agree it would be best for the working class if Reagan was defeated in 1984. There are, however, differences on how dangerous Reagan is, how best to defeat him and what the priority of the left should be during the presidential campaign.

In addition, during this past year, especially during the Democratic primary season, left forces took different positions regarding the Jesse Jackson campaign. In this article we will take a look at some of the different views within the left on the 1984 elections, the Jesse Jackson campaign and the Democratic Party.

The U.S. left

If we consider the left in the U.S. to be composed of all those groups and individuals who generally characterize themselves as leftists, we would have to say that the overwhelming majority of Third World leftists supported Jackson. The bulk of white leftists in the U.S. either sat out the primary elections (for example, many young activists in the anti-intervention movement) or else worked within the Democratic Party in the Mondale campaign (many of the leaders of the organized women’s and peace movements). However, as the campaign progressed, more and more forces became open to the campaign of Jesse Jackson. Towards the end of the primary season, significant numbers of white leftists in California and New Jersey, primarily from the peace and anti-intervention movements, began to actively support the Jackson candidacy.

While the majority of leftists in the U.S. are not members of various left organizations, the roles different left organizations played is important to examine. The extent to which left organizations can lead the theoretical and practical struggle is the extent to which the organized left will attract new activists. And the extent to which the left can unify is the extent to which we will eventually be able to have a clear, national left political alternative – and the possibility of real change.

Of course, for Marxist-Leninists, there is the separate question of the building of a new communist party. But even with such a communist party, there will still be a need for broad left unity because, for some time to come, there will be diverse ideological and political trends in the U.S. left. Unfortunately, a considerable number of groups and forces in the left believe that other leftists are the enemies, and harbor hegemonic and other sectarian designs. This reflects a level of immaturity which will be essential to transcend.

In this regard, the weakness of the organized left is important to critique and learn from. From a Marxist-Leninist point of view, the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement has yet to fully recover from the debacles of a few years back when the Communist Party Marxist-Leninist (CPML) and other Marxist-Leninist organizations virtually ceased to exist.

Of all national Marxist-Leninist organizations, the U.S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist) is the only one remaining. In the course of working together in this election year with other Marxist-Leninist collectives and individuals, we can say definitely, that even with all the weaknesses of Marxist-Leninists – and there are many – Marxist-Leninists still have the most to offer in terms of contributing to the movement. Many were surprised and shocked by the downright backward positions of other forces on the left, not to speak of some of these groups’ mindless sectarianism.

The League this year participated actively in every region of the country and in many aspects of electoral activity. In the course of our work, we saw the paucity of what social democrats, revisionists and various adventurists have to offer the working class.

While our practice with these forces this year reaffirmed our ideological differences with them, we also found that it was important that we be able to work together in practice. We believe that in the course of the work this year, we conducted ourselves in a principled fashion and sought unity whenever and wherever possible with other left groups, whatever our ideological differences.

But while we can and should work together, we also believe that it is important to be forthright about the ideological differences we have. These differences should be aired in appropriate places, such as in newspapers and at forums. Only by struggling over different lines and views can a more correct line emerge.

Most left groups in the U.S. have put out their views regarding the Jesse Jackson campaign and the 1984 elections. The following are brief presentations of the positions of the League, and four organizations: the Democratic Socialists of America, the Communist Party U.S.A., the Communist Workers Party and the Line of March organization.

U.S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (M-L)

The U.S. League of Revolutionary Struggle (Marxist-Leninist) took a position of support for Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition, and extensively analyzed and covered the campaign in UNITY. We supported Jackson because his campaign gave voice and form to the revolutionary national democratic struggle of the African American people and was a catalyst for anti-imperialist struggle. Regardless of the subjective consciousness and even the will of different forces in the Jackson campaign, the significance of the Jackson candidacy was that it reflected and expressed the revolutionary, objectively anti-imperialist thrust of the African American people’s struggle for democracy and an end to national oppression.

This struggle of African Americans attracted and set into motion the most progressive sectors of U.S. society. Because African Americans are at the very bottom of society, when they stir, the rest of society is thrown into upheaval. The Rainbow Coalition began to forge a new united front of Black people and other oppressed nationalities, workers, women and the poor. This movement holds the key to defeating Reagan in November.

Such a coalition can form around Jackson because, and only to the extent that, Jackson genuinely reflects the militancy of African Americans, who are at the forefront of the entire American people’s struggle for peace and democracy.

On the whole, Jackson rose to the challenge. But where he fell short – such as his error of nationalism with the ethnic slur, his failure at the Democratic Convention to criticize Mondale in his speech or wage a floor fight around the undemocratic rules, or to raise more sharply the insult in Mondale failing to even consider a Black woman for the vice presidency – we criticized Jackson from the standpoint of what would serve the mass movement, and in the spirit of unity-struggle-unity.

The Jackson campaign exposed to the masses the lie of democracy in America. It exposed the absence of democracy in the two-party system in which both imperialist parties are moving to the right, reflecting the crisis of monopoly capitalism in decay. The blatantly undemocratic primaries, the treatment of the Rainbow’s demands at the Democratic National Convention, the fact that Walter Mondale did not even consider a Black woman for the vice presidency, deeply and rightfully angered African Americans and progressives.

And so, while we will have to vote for Reagan’s chief opponent, Walter Mondale, to get Reagan out of the White House, our slogan must be “Attack Mondale, Defeat Reagan!” We cannot just tell people to vote for Mondale, we must attack Mondale and the Democratic Party, wage unrelenting public struggle against their backwardness, hypocrisy and racism. We must expose the bourgeois essence of both parties. That is the only way to make credible our call to vote for Mondale in order to defeat Reagan, and to not foster illusions about the Democrats. If we do not, millions of those inspired by the Jackson campaign will sit out this election, the Democrats will move still further to the right and Reagan will win. It is precisely because we must tell people to vote for Mondale this year that we must also attack and expose the Democratic Party while attacking Reagan and the Republicans even more.

The left has a crucial role to play in the anti-Reagan movement. Some on the left are so enamored of the Jackson campaign and so belittle the working class movement which they are supposed to represent, that they have forgotten that the left has a role to play. These forces have no confidence and no recognition of how quickly things can change.

For example, just a few years back, Andrew Young could draw thousands to listen to him speak, while Jesse Jackson drew only hundreds. See how much things have changed and can change. The mass movement moves forward quickly and the left should not get caught looking at its behind.

While working inside and outside the Democratic Party, the left must propagate independent views which expose at each turn the imperialist nature of the Democratic Party, the limitations of bourgeois democracy and the need for socialism, understanding that the masses will learn the truth of what we say through their own experiences. While a Reagan defeat would provide important breathing room for the masses and the left, and to third world liberation movements under the U.S. gun, it would not solve the problems of poverty and war. We need time to organize a people’s resistance, the most important aspect of which is to build a new party which can lead that struggle. We must vote for Mondale this year but we must sow no illusions about the Democrats.

For Marxist-Leninists, we must seek unity and try to win over the most advanced activists to communism. Our electoral work must contribute to building a new communist party based in the multinational working class. Thus the League published its program (including a minimum program of struggle) in UNITY and in booklet form as a contribution to the struggle for a Rainbow Agenda and to popularize what communism stands for.

The bourgeoisie vigorously propagates anti-communism and many on the left are in secret despair of communism ever having a mass following in this country. But we find that, especially among the oppressed nationalities and white workers in the lower stratum of the working class, there is a growing openness to socialism and the left. Our work in the electoral realm should raise up the question of socialism and not obscure it.

To develop a mass socialist trend, the left cannot be on the outside looking in. The left must be involved in organizing the masses, utilizing the electoral arena – including local races and ballot issues, and running our own socialist candidates where possible – to educate and mobilize for peace, democracy and social justice. We must build an independent revolutionary mass movement that can continue fighting for its demands past November. We cannot stand on the sidelines calling for a boycott, which will help Reagan win. Neither should the left tail behind Jackson and the mass movement while lamenting that we are still too organizationally weak and fragmented to have an impact.

Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)

In the primaries, some in DSA supported Mondale and some Jackson. However, DSA as an organization took a fairly backward position. Although in some quarters DSA gave the appearance of supporting Jackson, DSA actually maintained a neutral position throughout the primary races. DSA stated that “no candidate has yet put forth a clear, anti-corporate alternative to Reaganomics, a truly progressive agenda for equality, social justice and a democratic foreign policy.” (Democratic Left, March-April, 1984) DSA went on to call for unity among the supporters of Mondale, Jackson, McGovern and Hart to defeat Reagan.

This is a peculiar position, and many people found it hard to understand. Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition presented precisely what DSA claimed it wanted. Yet DSA chose to place Jackson on the same level as Mondale and Hart. Why?

From the standpoint of Marxist-Leninists, the position of the DSA is rooted in the fact that the DSA is not a revolutionary organization and is basically seeking change within the context of the existing political order. But even within its own context, DSA is not consistent.

If it seeks to “democratize” capitalism, make it adopt certain “socialist” principles and standards, DSA should have embraced Jackson’s campaign because at the heart of Jackson’s campaign was the struggle for more consistent democracy.

In our view, the DSA does not understand that central to the lack of democracy in the U.S. today is the denial of democracy to African Americans and other oppressed nationalities. The DSA fails to understand that the struggle for consistent democracy and progress in the U.S. will always hinge on the African American Movement and those of the other oppressed nationalities.

DSA’s talk about moving the Democratic Party to the left, supporting minority struggles, etc., remained talk. In practice, the DSA declined to support the very force capable of moving the party leftward.

Communist Party USA (CPUSA)

The CPUSA is conducting an elaborate strategy this year. It has been active in the Jackson camp, the Mondale campaign (mainly through the trade unions), and is running its own presidential and vicepresidential candidates – Gus Hall and Angela Davis. In complicated and convoluted arguments the CPUSA has declared simultaneously that it supports Jackson, supports Hall and Davis for president and vice president, and also supports Mondale for president.

Its arguments go something like this: We support Jackson because he is spearheading a mass movement. We support Mondale because he is better than Reagan. And we are running Hall and Davis in order to raise the importance of staunch support of the Soviet Union.

Despite the fact that it is encouraging people not to vote for Mondale when there is a chance that they may support Hall-Davis, the essential CPUSA position is actually uncritical support for Mondale.

Even though Hall-Davis claim to be running their campaign because they offer a different program than Mondale, throughout the primaries and the Democratic National Convention, the CPUSA made no criticisms of Mondale or the Democrats, showing how Mondale is trying to stake out a position only one small step to the left of Reagan. The Daily World, the CPUSA’s newspaper, said nothing about Mondale’s treatment of the Jackson minority plan or the Rainbow forces at the Convention. The CPUSA, in the name of communism, offers no real alternative for the masses, and sows illusions about the Democrats and Mondale.

But why should the CPUSA run Hall and Davis if the CPUSA is unwilling to take a strong, independent anti-Mondale and anti-Democratic Party stand? Why run in 1984, when a vote for Hall-Davis will be a vote taken away from Mondale, and thereby help Reagan?

The CPUSA gives the sorry excuse that “The Hall-Davis campaign will fight Reaganism’s number one weapon – anti-communism and anti-Sovietism.” (Daily World, July 12, 1984) Unfortunately, at the heart of the CPUSA’s “communist” program is their defense of Soviet imperialism. The CPUSA is guilty of putting its organizational priority of defending Soviet imperialism above the masses’ demand to defeat Reagan and Reaganism in 1984. This effort is futile, however, because while the majority of Americans do oppose Reaganism, they will never go for touting the Soviet Union as the guardian of world peace.

Line of March (LOM)

This is a group which is attempting to “rectify” then join the CPUSA. It has general unity with the CPUSA, although there are some differences.

This year the LOM has gone to some lengths to distinguish its own position from that of the CPUSA. While there are differences, there are important points of unity as well. The main difference with the CPUSA is that the LOM opposes the CPUSA running its own candidates as drawing resources and energy away from the Rainbow. However, similar to the CPUSA, the LOM hardly criticizes Mondale and the Democrats. In fact, LOM goes so far as to say it supports Mondale this year as representing a real alternative to Reagan.

The LOM proclaims itself the clearest and most farsighted of the left, but it puts out an entire pamphlet, entitled “Jesse Jackson’s Challenge” without mentioning once that they are for socialism. Their slogan this year is to build the Rainbow Coalition and Dump Reagan. They view the Rainbow Coalition as actually representing the working class.

The LOM also states in their August 20, 1984, Frontline Special Supplement that “not only has the Jackson campaign brought a program of consistently progressive politics into the bourgeois electoral arena, it has activated a mass social base – principally in the Black community – for their support.” This theme is consistently sounded throughout their article. The Jackson campaign is primarily seen as being significant because it brought forth progressive ideas and activated the Black community. But LOM fails to grasp that it is the Black Liberation Movement which produced the Jackson campaign and that the significance of the Jackson campaign lies in the extent to which it speaks for, articulates the demands and momentum of the Black Liberation Movement, and provides a further catalyst for anti-imperialist struggle.

This inability to understand that the Rainbow Coalition and the emergence of the Jackson campaign is another step in the historical struggle of African Americans for equality and justice, and that the political issues put forth by Jackson are a necessary outgrowth of that mass movement, appears to be rooted in their position which denies the very existence of an Afro-American nationality oppressed by imperialism.

LOM denies that African Americans constitute an oppressed nationality. To the LOM, there are only races, defined by “. . . certain physical features . . . isolated and fetishized into mutually exclusive racial groups,” and that “white vs. Black distinction has nothing in common with the logic of nations or nationalities.” (Line of March, Sept.-Oct. 1981, p. 42) Therefore, there is no such thing as national rights for African American people, and there is no basis for a Black Liberation Movement for self-determination and equality.

Although many people are not familiar with the history of African Americans in this country and the concept of a Black Nation, most people recognize that African Americans are a distinct group forged out of a common experience of slavery, sharing a certain cultural heritage and psychological makeup. Furthermore, African Americans – out of their concentration in the South during slavery and Reconstruction, developed distinct economic, political and social institutions. This common history and development forged African Americans into a distinct nationality – not just a racial group – with the right to self-determination in the South, and full equality and justice throughout the U.S.

To reduce the oppression of African Americans to just a race question is to deny it any form of real redress because racism can be attacked only as an ideological question and not fundamentally a question of national equality. The recognition of African Americans as a nationality is a recognition that at the crux of the oppression of African Americans is the question of suppression and denial of democracy to them as a people.

Therefore, for the Line of March to reduce the African American national movement to one of challenging racist myths and ideas negates the revolutionary essence of Black demands for equality and a full extension of democracy, and thus renders the LOM incapable of grasping the significance of the Jackson campaign.

Communist Workers Party (CWP)

The CWP has its roots in the Trotskyite Progressive Labor Party, which in the 1960’s was known for standing against the liberation movements in Indochina and for racist opposition to Black and minority peoples’ struggles here in the U.S. The CWP declared itself the vanguard of the U.S. revolution at its founding in 1978 and publishes Workers Viewpoint newspaper (though it recently announced indefinite suspension of publication).

In 1980, the CWP called for the immediate seizure of state power, and a small band of CWP members stormed the side doors of the Democratic Convention in New York. Some of their members managed to get into the Convention where they threw eggs at Democratic Party leaders. This year, they supported Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow, and called for communists to get involved in local elections.

But fundamentally, CWP’s line still calls for seizing power at the top. CWP also still believes the U.S. is in a “revolutionary situation” (Workers Viewpoint, June 20, 1984) and that they are the vanguard party in a position to lead the masses to victory.

An article in Workers Viewpoint (June 20, 1984) talks about forming local “dual power” bases (where CWP would hold elected office under capitalism), taking over the Democratic Party, and then forming a national provisional government which would nationalize the banks and transform capitalist society. This is just wacky careerist fantasizing which provides no real alternative for the masses.

How CWP carries out its local electoral work is also strange. In Newark, New Jersey, CWP supports Mayor Kenneth Gibson at a time when the Black masses overwhelmingly want to get rid of Gibson. CWP passed out hundreds of Rainbow Coalition fliers with Gibson’s picture on it. When a community coalition mounted a powerful challenge to corrupt, entrenched Gibson lackeys in the Newark School Board elections last April, CWP sat on the fence and failed to support the mass movement for fear of losing favor with Gibson.

CWP says it will support Mondale over Reagan, while raising that Mondale is more dangerous (!) But the question is not just of Mondale or Reagan, but that the Democrats as well as the Republicans are bourgeois parties. At this time, we need to support one sector of the bourgeoisie in order to defeat the other, being fully aware of the dangers posed not only by Mondale but by the Democratic Party, also a party of imperialism.

The CWP puts forward virtually no dialectical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Jackson campaign. It takes a non-struggle attitude toward Jackson and the Rainbow primarily because it wants to use the momentum and prestige of the campaign among the masses to catapult itself to national prominence and power.


It is unfortunate for the U.S. working class that the left in this country is so immature and weak, both ideologically and organizationally. It is tragic because we believe that only the left, only socialism, can provide a real alternative for the people of this country. The left can begin to defeat this historic weakness by making more serious efforts to unite on a principled basis, while collectively and independently struggling to win the masses away from capitalism and the advanced to communism. In our view, there are two things the left must do.

One is to conduct debate and struggle to separate what is right from what is wrong. In the past few years, perhaps in part due to the reaction from the overly shrill polemics of the 1970’s, most groups have shied away from ideological struggle, preferring to go their own way, holding their own line to be self-evident truths. This is not healthy. Ideological struggle is needed so that there can be more clarity to guide the movement.

Second, because the left is weak, it is imperative that the U.S. left work together in practice. We think that we have a lot to learn from the left in other countries. In Peru, a coalition of left groups captured the mayoralty in 7 out of 24 provincial capitals, including Lima. This coalition, called the United Left, includes the revisionist Communist Party of Peru, social democrats, two Marxist-Leninist organizations and mass organizations. These groups realize that in order to provide an alternative to the right in Peru, the left must unite.

We think the U.S. needs something like this too. While we, like the Peruvians, have differences among ourselves over the Soviet Union and key domestic political questions, we believe that we all share something in common. We all oppose Reagan, we all recognize that the Democratic Party will not bring socialism, and we all agree that the right in the U.S. is a growing danger. Perhaps there could be higher principles of unity, but this is a basis on which to begin.